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FESTIVALS

NowRuz, now means new and the word Nowruz means day, so Nowruz means starting a new day and it is the Celebration of the start of spring (“Rejuvenation”). It starts on the first day of spring (also the first day of the Iranian Calendar year), 21 March, in that 12 days as a sign of the past 12 months, all Iranian families gather around and visit each other. It is also the best time to re-experience the feeling of Mehr (pure love).

In Nowruz, all families talk about their best experiences of the last year and the things they are looking forward to the next year and they all become bonded again in peace. There are many other things Iranians do for Nowruz including khane tekani (cleaning the house) and Haji Firoz, where a person who makes his face black and wears a red dress, walks around the streets and entertains people by singing a special song. Nowruz is celebrated in Greater Iran, Caucasus, Central Asia and by Iranians worldwide. It is a public holiday in Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

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Sofre Haft Sin, sofre (tablecloth), haft (seven), sin (the letter S). Al-Bīrūnī said: haftsin came from Jamshid because he destroyed the evil that made pars lands weak so in the first day of Iranian calendar people called it Nowruz (starting of a new day) and they put 7 different beans on their table as a sign of thanking nature for giving humans all they need. Since then every year Iranians put haft sin on their tables, but nowadays they put 7 things that start with a letter. Some people also believe that Sasanian had a very beautiful plate that was given to them from China and they called it chini plate, and after some years the word chini changed into sini (a beautiful plate) so people would put 7 things in a sini.

Sizdah Bedar, Persian Festival of “Joy and Solidarity”. The 13th and last day of Nowruz celebration. Because of the end of twelve days (a sample of twelve months), they celebrate the 13th day as a new beginning of the next twelve month and it has no relations with the number 13 (as an unlucky number). It is celebrated outdoors along with the beauty of nature. Al-Bīrūnī also called this day: tir ruz: bliss day.

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Yalda night

Shabe Chelle, The turning point. End of the longest night (darkness) of the year, and the beginning of the growth of the days (Lights). A celebration of Good over Evil. Also known as Shab-e Yaldā they have special nuts for that night.
Yalda is one of the most celebrated traditional events in Iran which marks the longest night of the year. Every year, on December 21st, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness on Yalda Night. Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals. The festival dates back to the time when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism prior to the advent of Islam. On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.
Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light. Yalda, which means birth, is a Syriac word imported into the Persian language. It is also referred to as Shab-e Chelleh, a celebration of the winter solstice on December 21–the last night of fall and the longest night of the year. Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda.

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In addition to Iran, Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and some Caucasian states such as Azerbaijan and Armenia share the same tradition and celebrate Yalda Night annually at this time of the year. On this night, family members get together (most often in the house of the eldest member) and stay awake all night long. Dried nuts, watermelon, and pomegranate are served, as supplications to God for increasing his bounties, as well classic poetry and old mythologies are read aloud.

Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Therefore, eating watermelons is one of the most important traditions in this night. Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life–the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and their bright red seeds the glow of life. As days start lengthening, ancient Iranians believe that at the end of the first night of winter which coincides with December 21 this year, darkness is defeated by light and therefore they must celebrate the whole night. As the 13th-century Iranian poet Sa’di writes in his book Boustan: “The true morning will not come until the Yalda Night is gone.”

Early Christians linked this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, goddess of light, and to the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus (PBUH). In birth, the sun and Prophet Jesus (PBUH) are close to each other, says one Iranian tale of Yalda.

Today, Christmas is celebrated slightly off from Yalda Night. However, Christmas and Yalda are both celebrated in a similar fashion by staying up all night and celebrating it with family and friends and eating special foods. In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the start of the solar year has been marked with the celebration of the victory of light over darkness, and the renewal of the sun. For example, 4,000 years ago, Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year. Their festival lasted for 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in their solar calendar.

The ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia (god of agriculture, Saturn) and Sol Invicta (sun god) are amongst the best-known celebrations in the western world. Iranians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest night of the year when the forces of evil are assumed to be at the peak of their strength.

The next day, which is the first day of the month ‘Dey’ known as ‘khorram Rooz’ or ‘khore Rooz’ (the day of the sun), belongs to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of wisdom. Since days become longer and nights shorter, this day marks the victory of the sun over darkness. The occasion was celebrated as the festival of ‘Deygan’, which is dedicated to Ahura Mazda on the first day of ‘Dey’.

Fires would be burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of evil. There would be feasts, acts of charity and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of the sun–essential for the protection of winter crops. There would be prayers to Mithra (Mehr) and feasts in his honor since Mithra is the Eyzad responsible for protecting “the light of the early morning”, known as ‘Havangah’. It was also assumed that Ahura Mazda would grant people’s wishes, especially those desiring an offspring of all rites are performed on this occasion.

One of the themes of the festival was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and servants reversed roles. The king dressed in white would change place with ordinary people. A mock king was crowned and masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed. This tradition persisted till the Sassanian rule and is mentioned by Birouni, the eminent scientist and traveler, and others in their recordings of pre-Islamic rituals and festivals.

Its origin dates back to the Babylonian New Year celebration. They believed that the first creation was ordered, which was born out of chaos. To appreciate and celebrate the first creation, they held a festival and all roles were reversed. Disorder and chaos ruled for a day and eventually, order was restored at the end of the festival.

The Iranian Jews, who are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the country, in addition to Shab-e Chelleh, also celebrate the festival of Illanout (tree festival) at around the same time.

The celebration of Illanout is very similar to Shab-e Chelleh’s. Candles are lit and a variety of dried and fresh winter fruits are eaten. Special meals are prepared and prayers are performed. There are also festivals in parts of southern Russia, which are identical to Shab-e Chelleh with local variations. Sweet bread is baked in the shape of humans and animals. Bonfires are lit, around which people danced and made movements resembling crop harvesting.

Comparisons and detailed studies of all these celebrations will shed more light on the forgotten aspects of this wonderful and ancient festival, where merriment was the main theme of the festival.

One of the other traditions of Yalda night, which has been added in recent centuries, is the recitation of the classic poetry of Hafez, the Iranian poet of 14th century AD. Each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the book and asks the eldest member of the family to read it aloud. What is expressed in that poem is believed to be the interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true. This is called Faal-e Hafez (Hafez Omen).

Coinciding with the beginning of the winter, Yalda is an occasion to celebrate the end of the crop season. It is today an event to thank the Lord for all blessings and to pray for prosperity in the next year.

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Jashne Sade, A mid-winter feast to honor fire and to “defeat the forces of darkness, frost and cold” in which people gather around and build a fire so that they can receive good things from the fire and give the fire their incompleteness.

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Chaharshanbe Suri, Festival of Fire, last Wednesday night in the Iranian Calendar year. It marks the importance of the light over the darkness, arrival of spring and revival of nature. The basis of nearly all of Iranian national festivals is from its Pre-Islamic Zoroastrian era. However, there are some festivals that are celebrated exclusively by Zoroastrians and some with less extent in other communities too.

Ramadan, Iranian have special recipes as Zoolbia-Bamieh, Shole Zard, Ferni, Halva and Ash Reshteh in Ramadan (Ramazan).

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Religious Ceremonies

Eid ul-Fitr or Eid e Fetr

“The Festival of Fast-Breaking” which comes at the end of Ramadan. People give gifts and money to poor people, patients and the handicapped. Ashurah and Tasoa: Shi’a Muslims observe the day in mourning for Hussein and in remembrance of his martyrdom. In Iran, Iranians perform Ta’zieh, the old Iranian dramatic parade (post Islamic era). There exists also a rather special recipe for some special drinks in this festival. Many people cook something and offer it to their neighbors as gifts.

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Nimeh Şabân

celebration for the twelfth and final Shi’a Imam. The festival consists of some fireworks and decorating the cities with lights, bulbs, and trees.

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Sepandarmazgan

Day of Love, Friendship, and Earth in ancient Persian culture.

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Ghorban ceremony

“The Festival of Sacrifice”. In Iran, Iranian sacrifice sheep and offer the meat to neighbors and also poor people for free. There is also a barbecue in almost every house.

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Ashoura

Considered a barbaric ritual by many outsiders, this is one of the most important events in the Shia calendar. The day marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of Husayn, the grandson of Mohammad. To demonstrate devotion, some followers let their blood flow freely from their heads through self-inflicted wounds.

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Ghadr nights

the “Night of Qadr” towards the end of Ramadan, which is when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad. Iranian stay awake the nights and light candles.

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Jewish

  • Purim Festival
  • Illanout (tree festival) Celebrated in February, it is identical to Shab-e Cheleh and is a lot more elaborate, reminiscence of the pre-Islamic celebrations
  • Shabe Sal, it. Night of the Year: The night of the end of Passover, when chametz can once again be eaten. It is usually celebrated with many types of bread and dairy items. This festival is unique to Persian Jews and is not celebrated in this way by most other Jews.
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Christian

The majority of Iranian Christians are Armenian-Iranians also known as Parska-Hye who follow the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Oriental Orthodox branch of Christianity. This minority has their very own special festivals and traditions.
There is also a significant minority of Assyrian people who follow the Oriental Orthodox Christian Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church, it should be noted that these two church groups also have a minority of Persian followers. The followers of this church have a blend of Persian and Assyrian culture. Iran has an overwhelmingly Muslim population but the Christian Community has a visible presence. During Christmas times, Christmas Trees can be seen from Windows in Tehran and north-western provinces. Although Christmas has an official recognition in Iran, it is not a national holiday.

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