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The Dawn of a New Year, 
the Continuation of a Heritage and the Strengthening of a Bond

Cultural Events and Festivals

Dr. Khosro Mehrfar



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Noruz is once more upon us. This old carrier of millennia who comes once a year at the beginning of spring has many things to say and to offer. Noruz arrives from beyond the ages and far beyond any boundaries of time and space. She carries with her the spirit of re-birth and freshness, the feeling of light and warmth, and she puts aside the darkness and coldness in every one's heart and mind.

We Persians created and developed this magnificent occurrence based on the Persian worldview and Persian philosophy of life. Persian Culture celebrates anything and everything relevant to joy and happiness in one way or another. Zarathushtra, the Great Persian Prophet, honored and respected Noruz and Zarathushtis, through centuries, developed ceremonies, rules and manners for Noruz.

Although Noruz was invented and developed by Persians in Persia, or Iran as it is called today, we believe she belongs to everyone who respects her and cherishes her. It is a strong link between all groups and even nationalities that speak Persian or have some roots in Persian Culture. It is one of the strong links between the Zarathushtis from Iran and our beloved Parsis no matter where they live. Once a year, precisely at the same time to the moment, we all celebrate this day no matter where we live as did our ancestors for the last several thousands of years. Noruz knows no boundary of time and space.

Noruz does not come by herself. She is always accompanied by her faithful relatives who themselves carry centuries-old traditions, ceremonies and messages. The closest relatives are "Chahar Shanbeh Soori" and "Sizdeh Bedar". In this article, we will try to describe in simple words each one of these splendid festivals for those who are not familiar with them. Chahar Shanbeh Soori literally means, the joy of Wednesday (or the Wednesday Party). It refers to the last Wednesday of the Persian year. It is actually celebrated on the night before, on Tuesday evening. Planning usually occurs weeks and sometimes months before that. If you ask any Iranian about it, almost all either have participated in it or have observed its celebration, no matter how old or how young they are.

It starts with large pile of wood and dry brush that is collected and gathered in one place. It then is spread out into smaller piles and set apart. When the sun sinks in the horizon and the sunlight fades away, these woodpiles are set on fire and people jump over them singing traditional songs, celebrating the fire as a symbol of light and warmth. What they say is very interesting. Among many songs that are read in all parts of Iran, perhaps the most famous one is the one that almost any Iranian is familiar with.

In this song, Iranians ask the fire to give them warmth and energy and to wash aside any weakness from their faces. These words have deep roots in Iranians culture and once more confirm the love and respect that their ancestors had for the symbol of purity and energy which is cardinal to life. This event is the prelude to Noruz. In southern California, this event has been celebrated since about 20 years ago, when large groups of Persians immigrated to Southern California. It is celebrated in many places, but perhaps the largest one is performed on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Orange County with an average crowd of about 25,000 people, according to the city's estimation. The disciplined and civilized way that this large crowd handles itself in the darkness of night is commendable and has been mentioned several times in local newspapers.

One of the interesting customs that take place during this event is similar to Halloween. Here, scores of people, usually young adults, cover themselves in a cloth and with a pot and a spoon go door to door. In front of each house, they start beating the pot with the spoon and making

a loud noise until the householder comes out and puts some candy or fruit or nuts in their pots. At Halloween, the piece of cloth is replaced by make-up or various customs and candy is the most popular treat. However, the concept is similar and probably has the same root and origin.

And now the Noruz lady arrives to give birth to earth. Traditional ceremonies range from preparing a collection of 7 items that start with the sound of letter S in Persian, to annual gatherings and visiting the loved ones. It is said that the 7 items starting with S used to be items starting with the sound "Sh". And one of them was wine (Sharaab) which starts with the sound of "Sh" in Persian. However, after the Arabs' invasion, since wine is forbidden in Islam, it all changed to the closest letter which is "S".

Iranian Zarathushtis have kept both "S" and "Sh" items, which obviously includes wine and milk (Shir). The holy Avesta and the portrait of the Prophet Zarathushtra are the highlight of the display. Many Iranians also put a portrait of the late poet, Ferdowsi, to whom they owe their mother language and perhaps their identity. This is out of the deep love and affection that they feel for this great poet who brought back to life the sense of pride and glory of a lost nation in the midst of a dark era of national deterioration. Iranians of other religions will use their holy book, but the portrait of Ferdowsi is common, no matter what religion one has.

In several neighboring countries of Iran, Noruz is a national ceremony and is celebrated for days. In Iran, it is celebrated for about 2 weeks, during which schools are closed and many businesses and government organizations are half-open. The end of Noruz is marked by another national and cultural event knowing as "Sizdeh Bedar" or outgoing on the 13th. This is a group celebration of the New Year in nature, or the Persian Festival of spring.

According to some legends, on the 13th, people who have just celebrated Noruz for 2 weeks should go out together, spend a day together, and enjoy nature together. Long lines of cars are gathered early on the morning of the 13th, all headed to the parks or outskirts of the cities, towns, and villages. In this spring festival tradition foods are provided and people eat together in large groups, and share their foods, jokes, and happiness. Traditional Persian songs and traditional Persian dance is an important part of the Persian Festival of spring, which is mostly done by younger people. "Sizdeh Bedar," or the Persian Festival of spring , has a great social philosophy. During this one-day Festival many hostilities may change to friendship and many relationships may get started between people, particularly between the young. These relationships may end up in marriage, or business, or other activities, in the future.

"Sizdeh Bedar," or the Persian Festival of spring, is the end of Persian New Year Celebration. These are not the only celebrations in Persian Culture. Persian Culture is the Culture of celebrations and happiness. We have many other celebrations too.