A few years ago, when I visited Iran on Persian New Year, I discovered the most exciting ritual of the holiday. It’s called chahar shanbeh souri, or Red Wednesday, and it is always celebrated during the night between the last Tuesday and Wednesday of the Iranian year. The tradition goes back thousands of years; those Zoroastrians sure knew how to throw a good party.
Like khooneh tekooni (see my previous post), chahar shanbeh souri is all about tossing out the old and embracing the new. But this time, you do it with fire.
That night in Tehran, the festivities started well before dark – with firecrackers, sparklers and plenty of noisemakers. As if this weren’t enough racket, people were going door-to-door banging pots with big metal spoons, symbolically chasing away the old year to make room for the new. This is not a night to catch up on your sleep.
We went into the back yard with a few pieces of old crockery and smashed them on the hard, stone path. The idea was to release all the pain and bad luck that had accumulated over the past months, supposedly contained within those few old jars. Did it work? Who knows? It felt good, anyway.
Later, after dark, we headed up the mountain to a street where people had built bonfires right in the middle of the road. With music blaring from open windows, cars honking, people cheering from the sidelines, we all jumped over the bonfires chanting a phrase that translates roughly as: take my sickly yellow color and give me your vibrant redness. Symbolically, we were asking the fire to cleanse away the sickness and troubles of the past and leave us with health and good luck in the months to come.
I’ve since celebrated this ritual in California, but that first experience stayed with me through the years. It impressed me so much that I stuck a version of it in my current novel-in-progress.
Tonight after dark, I’ll be going out to find a bonfire to jump over so I can ask it to give me good health and fortune in the months to come.
In the meantime, check out this video to get a quick taste of this fun holiday tradition: