Iranians celebrate Festival of Fire despite economic woes
Iran's many woes briefly went up in smoke as Iranians observed a nearly 4,000-year-old Persian tradition known as the Festival of Fire.
The celebration is held on the last Tuesday night before Nowruz, or the Iranian New Year, which will be celebrated on Thursday. The annual ritual dates back to at least 1700 B.C. and is linked to the Zoroastrian religion.
To celebrate, people light bonfires, set off fireworks and send wish lanterns floating off into the night sky. Others jump over and around fires, chanting "My yellow is yours, your red is mine," invoking the replacement of ills with warmth and energy.
The fire festival also features an Iranian version of trick-or-treating, with people going door to door and being given a holiday mix of nuts and berries, as well as buckets of water.
Arezou Abarghouei held hands with her daughter and husband as they leaped over a small fire in Tehran.
"Iranians love to celebrate and they need it, especially now, when all of us are facing economic problems," she said. "This is a way to forget these difficulties just for one night."
Nowruz – The Iranian New Year
Nowruz is one of the oldest celebrations in the world. It has been a fixture on the cultural calendar in many regions for more than 2,500 years. It marks the beginning of spring and also the change of seasons in the Iranian solar calendar. Sharam Ahad offers his impressions of the celebrations.
Traditional dances: Nowruz celebrations prominently feature dancing, even in countries such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan (photo). People congregate on public squares or in stadiums, where New Year festivities are organized.
Spanning all the way to China: In 2009, UNESCO included Nowruz, one of the oldest celebrations of mankind, in its world cultural heritage list. The celebrations marking the spring equinox (March 20- 21) are held in a vast area comprising the Middle East, Central Asia, and even beyond, including the Uighur regions of western China.
Kurdish celebration: Nowruz is also an important holiday for Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Celebrations were banned for decades in Turkey and Syria. Since 1994, Nowruz has been officially recognized as a traditional Turkish festivity, which was first officially celebrated nationwide in 1995. The photo shows celebrations in southeast Turkey.
Burning enthusiasm: The origins of Nowruz date back to the pre-Islamic history of Iran. Authorities in the Islamic Republic tolerate the festivity with reluctance but have never been able to restrict it. In particular, the country's moral guardians dislike the popular tradition of "fire jumping" on the streets on the eve of the holiday.
The "Chaharshanbe Suri" fire ritual: People jump over bonfires and while singing this song: "Give me your warmth, take away my cold, give me your red, take away my yellow (referring to a pale complexion).
Spring-cleaning: Somehow, spring and cleaning belong together. While the tradition in Germany is to wash windows, Iranians are keen to air out their carpets at this time of year. In Iran, spring-cleaning is called "shaking the house."
Good fortune seven times over: The seven S's and their meanings are: Sekkeh (coins = prosperity), Sib (apple = health), Somaq (fragrant sumac = "the taste of life"), Sonbol (hyacinths = friendship), Sir (garlic = protection), Senjed (oleaster = "the seed of life"), and Serkeh (vinegar = happiness), as well as Samanou, a paste made from the germ of seven grains.
Swimming lucky charms: Days before the start of New Year's festivities, goldfish can be found for sale everywhere. They are intended to decorate the "Haft Sin," the traditional Nowruz table setting, symbolizing life and good fortune.
Herald of Nowruz: The "Haji Firuz" is the traditional herald of the New Year in Iran. With singing and dance, he spreads cheer and joy in anticipation of Nowruz. Clad in red clothes, the Haji Firuz is meant to symbolize warmth and good cheer.
Nowruz at the White House: First Lady Michelle Obama hosted Nowruz celebrations in Washington in mid-March this year, which of course included traditional dancing and "Haft Sin".
"Haft Sin", the "seven S's": the "Haft Sin" ritual is an integral part of Nowruz celebrations first and foremost in Iran, but also in Afghanistan. It is a table or tablecloth set with the "seven S's": The table, or a tablecloth spread out on the floor, is set with seven things that begin with "S" in Persian and that are symbolic of the new year.
This year Nowruz comes at a time of growing economic hardship following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and restore crippling sanctions. Iran's currency has plummeted in recent months, sending prices skyrocketing and wiping out many people's life savings.
The fire festival is one of two holidays with ancient roots that are still observed each year in the Islamic Republic, the other being a picnic day in early April.
The holiday offers a rare opportunity for Iranians to dance and celebrate in public, something authorities usually frown on. Police warned people to stay away from major streets and public squares, but largely ignored celebrations held inside neighbourhoods.
Hard-liners discourage such celebrations, viewing them as pagan holdovers. The Western-allied monarchy that was toppled by the 1979 Islamic revolution had emphasised the country's pre-Islamic past, presenting itself as heir to a Persian civilisation stretching back to antiquity. (AP)