Holidays and Celebrations: Teacher

Holidays and Celebrations


Charlotte Albright

Noruz (New Year)

Imagine celebrating New Year not in the dead of winter, but at the beginning of spring, with return of the birds and flowering trees. This has been the custom for Iranians for thousands for of years! For Iranians the New Year or Noruz begins at the vernal equinox, the precise time in the spring when the sun crosses the equator making the day and night equal length. The vernal equinox usually falls on March 21. Noruz means “new day” in the Persian language and is pronounced “no rooz.” Today Noruz is a celebration lasting from Tuesday evening before the vernal equinox until the 13th day afterward. For this happy festival families enjoy getting together, preparing special food, and decorating their houses with special symbolic objects.


The Noruz festival is rooted in Iran’s ancient past. According to legend the mythical king Jamshid first taught his people to build, weave, mine, and make weapons. He then conquered demons build him a crystal carriage which carried him across the sky. Iranians began to celebrate Noruz to commemorate the flight of the crystal carriage.

Whatever the legends, many people around the world have celebrations at the beginning of the growing season to welcome warmer weather, wish for abundant crops and flocks, and to say goodbye to the harsh winter months. The Iranian Noruz festival has much in common with these agricultural celebrations.

Before Iranians converted to Islam (see inset) in the seventh century A.D., they had been Zoroastrians for nearly 1600 years. Zoroastrianism emphasized that people should try to be good and avoid evil. It was during the centuries when the Iranians were Zoroastrians that the celebrations for Noruz were formalized. The Noruz feast was only one of 23 religious feasts celebrated during the year. It is one of the few of those old Zoroastrian feasts that is celebrated by Iranians today.

Char Shanbeh Suri

Today begin the festival of Noruz the Tuesday evening before the vernal equinox. The day and the event are called “Char Shanbeh Suri.” Families light small bonfires and everyone is supposed to jump over them. As they jump, people say, “My yellowness to you, your redness to me,” meaning that the fire should burn up people’s winter paleness and sickness and give back a rosy complexion and good health.

Getting Ready

In preparation for the New Year’s celebrations Iranians give their homes a thorough cleaning: rugs and drapes are washed, furniture cleaned, the house repaired. Everyone is supposed to get new clothes and shoes.

The Noruz Table

Iranians say the new year has began the exact moment when the earth enters Aries (see inset article on the calendar) on New Year’s day. A special table is prepared for this moment. Families place lighted candles or a lamp on the table, along with a mirror, special food prepared to eat on this day, colored eggs, a holy book (depending on the family’s faith), and often a bowl of water with a goldfish in it. The goldfish symbolizes life.

In addition, the family sets out a plate containing seven items that all begin with the letter “S”. These “seven S’s” are (with some variation from region to region): sib (apple), sabzeh (greens), sir (garlic), serkeh (vinegar), senjed (Bohemian olive), and sonbol (hyacinth).

At the moment the new year begins, family members all hug and kiss one another and exchange gifts and money. The family may then eat the special food that they have prepared. The food often includes steamed rice mixed with herbs and fried fish. In the days following New Year’s day, family members visit one another and also visit the older members of their families first- grandparents and older aunts and uncles, and then the younger family member. Other special events sometimes take place: young boys may have wrestling matches, or groups of clowns and acrobats parade through streets and perform for the public.

Sizdeh Bedar

On the thirteenth day after New Year’s Day everyone who possibly can packs up a huge picnic lunch and heads outside, preferably out of town. It is considered unlucky to sped this day, called Sizdeh Bedar, inside. Families spend the day outside along the banks of a stream or in green fields eating their picnic feast, drinking tea, and playing games. Sometimes the young unmarried girls will tie knots in the grass and wish for a husband during the coming year. On this day people throw out the greens that they grew for New Year’s Day. If possible, the greens are thrown into running water- a tradition followed because the greens should take away the family’s bad luck. With all the excitement of the Noruz festival- the special food, gifts, and family activities, you can see why Noruz is the most joyous Iranian holiday and one particularly laved by children.

Fascinating Facts About the Iranian Calendar

Iranians use two calendars, a solar and a lunar calendar has 365 days and is divided into 12 months, each named for constellation, based on the signs of the zodiac. The zodiac is an imaginary belt in the sky extending for eight degrees on either side of the apparent path of the sun and including the paths of the moon and principal planets. Each month runs from approximately the 21st to the 20th of each of our month. You can see how the Persian months line up next to the western names for the signs of the zodiac in this chart:

Signs (Months) of the Zodiac


Latin Name

Persian Name

March 21



April 21



May 21



June 21



July 21



August 22



September 22



October 21



November 21



December 21



January 21



February 21



Iranians use the solar calendar to mark national holidays and the beginning of the year.

By contrast, the lunar calendar is used to mark all the special days for Muslims in Iran (as well as other Muslim nations). The lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, or 354 days. Since the lunar year is shorter than the solar year, the lunar months do not coincide with the solar months and religious events observed on the lunar calendar occur 11 days earlier each successive year!

The first year for both the solar and lunar calendars in Iran is 622 A.D. Why? The paragraphs below give the answer, but also look at the unit on “Religion” in the handbook.

Islam- A Brief Definition

Islam is a religion in which believers submit to one God (the same God as the god of the Christians and Jews) and accept Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as his prophet and messenger. Today there are probably one billion Muslims around the world divided into main groups of Muslims: Sunni and Shi’a. Muslims in Iran are primarily Shi’a Muslims.

In 622 A.D. the Prophet Muhammad moved with his followers from Mecca, in the Arabian peninsula, to the city of Medina to the north. In Medina, Muhammad became both the religious and political leader of the community of Muslims. Muslims count time beginning with this date, so that 622 A.D. is year 1 both in the Islamic calendar and the Iranian solar calendar.

Jashn-e Sadeh (The Sadeh Festival)

Hamid Dabashi

Jashn-e Sadeh (Persian for “The Sadeh Festival”) began as an ancient Iranian festival celebrated by kings and commoners on the tenth of Bahman (the thirteenth of January) every year. The word Sadeh means “the hundredth”. There are different legends and traditions, having survived the test of time, explaining the nature and significance of this festival. According to one tradition, Kayumarth, the legendary Persian king, celebrated the birth of his hundredth child by calling for a huge fire and communal festivities. According to another legend Adam’s offspring reached one hundred on this day. Yet another story considers this festival to have been occasioned by the first one hundred days of Adam’s earthly life. Perhaps more logical explanations of this festival occasion its inception some fifty days and fifty nights before the Iranian New Year, Noruz. It has also been considered as the celebration of one hundred days after the beginning of winter in the ancient Persian calendar in which the cold season was marked by a five month period.

Whatever its origin or etymological root, jashn-e sadeh is today a winter fire festival which Iranians have celebrated since the time immemorial. According to tradition, people observe it “to strengthen the sun and to help bring back the warmth and light to the world” (1). According to historical sources, this festival was an annual occasion for singing and dancing, and communal eating and merriment around the fire. Iranians believed that the warmth of their communal fire and friendship banished the brutality of winter and helped plants and the rest of living creatures survive the cold season. The supreme enemy of life was identified with Ahriman (see section of Zoroastrianism) who through his active agency, the winter, achieved a partial victory. The symbol of life, Rapithwin, had sought refuge in its subterranean haven. By making a huge fire, Iranians, nobles and commoners, thought they were helping Rapithwin to survive its temporary defeat and preserve the continuity of life (2).

In many Iranian villages and towns even today, the jashn-e sadeh is celebrated with song and dance, eating and merriment. Today, as perhaps in older times, the sadeh festival is a communal celebration of the people’s endurance of the winter hardship and their anticipation of spring and hopes for a bounteous crop. According to one eye witness account (Shakourzadeh, 3), a few days before the festival, villagers, old and young, go to fields and collect thorns and dead branches for fire. They bring these back to the village and pile them into a huge heap. On the night of the celebration , some villagers tie a heap of dried bushes, called Kolluk, to a string, set it on fire and, while running into the field and singing appropriate songs, swing the firey ball around their head. In the meantime, around the main heap of dried branches, bushes, and thorns, the villagers gather and the elders have the honor of setting the heap on fire. The young villagers and the children, helping their elders and those who are weak or sick, hold their hands together, circle around the fire, while singing and dancing all the while. A popular sadeh song in part reads:

Sadeh, Sadeh, O Sadeh! Laughter and dance we choose.

Hundred days to the crop, just fifty to Noruz.

Unmarried women you may soon get your wishes!

Married women will be washing all their dishes.

Young girls in their houses, thinking of new clothes.

Young girls in their houses, wishing for their spouses.

In the midst of the merriment, young men throw fiery balls high into the dark sky, and as they fall they throw them back, defying, in the heat of their joy, the biting touch of the fire. As the restless young paint the dark canvas of the night with the yellow and red of their fires, the elderly watch calmly, believing the sight will bring them health and happiness in the year to come. It is commonly believed that as sparkles of fire come down from the heavens they bring Divine grace and benevolent bounty with them. The fire festival continues for three nights. Every night, the ashes are left for the next round, hoping that a mid-winter rain, as a sign of Divine mercy, will wash the ashes away, and thus signal the coming of a prosperous year.

Study Questions

  1. Words to look up in the dictionary: equinox, vernal, zodiac
  2. If we celebrated the 4th of July, or Independence Day, two years in a row on the lunar calendar, what day would the holiday fall on the second year?
  3. Does Noruz remind you of any holiday? Which one and why?
  4. What symbolic meals do we prepare? (Hint: either for national holidays or personal important days.)
  5. In what special or symbolic ways are foods prepared and eaten by Christians, Jews, or Muslims?