Picnics and Rain Gods

Today is sizdah bedar, the thirteenth day of the Persian new year and the end of the two-week celebration of spring and renewal. The phrase doesn’t translate elegantly into English, but it means that on the thirteenth day of the year, you’d better not be caught indoors. Thirteen is a very unlucky number.

Iranians all over the world will celebrate sizdah bedar by heading for the nearest park or into nature, laden with picnic baskets, blankets and plenty of food to share: fruit, aash-e reshteh (New Year’s soup), special Norooz pastries and candies (to make the occasion sweeter), pistachios and tea. After all, you have to bring enough to share with friends who will be stopping by to say hello.

Our haft seen is gone by now. We’ve eaten the apples and chocolate eggs, the hyacinth blooms have faded, and the cut flowers are confined to a single vase. All that remains is the sabzeh, (lentil sprouts). They are looking quite ratty—sparse and yellowing, white with fuzzy mold at the roots.

But that is appropriate to what the sabzeh represents. The sprouts have been collecting the illness, pain and bad luck that has accumulated in our house, so they should have an unhealthy pallor by now. Tomorrow, we will perform a ritual that Persians have been practicing for centuries: we will take our sabzeh out to the wilderness and scatter it to the wind. This dissipates the bad luck, so it will not plague us through the year.

Like many of the Persian New Year’s customs, sizdah bedar is rooted in Zoroastrian traditions. Family members who have been quarreling should make peace. Friends who have lost contact should find each other again. This belief goes back to the Zoroastrians. On this day, the Zoroastrian God Uhura Mazda, who represents goodness and purity, fights with Ahriman (the embodiment of evil). Our behavior is supposed to give one side or the other the advantage.

Some say that sizdah bedar goes back to even older times before the Zoroastrians, when ancient Persians gave a name to each day of the month and placed it in the care of a deity. The thirteenth day belonged to Tir, the god of rain, and people would pray to the deity to prevent drought later in the year. This makes a lot of sense to me right now as rain pounds my roof. I’m guessing that Tir heard the prayers.

About Heidi Noroozy

Heidi Noroozy is a translator, blogger, and writer of multicultural crime fiction. Her short stories appeared in German crime anthologies and have been translated into five languages. Her Cold War story, “Trading Places,” was published in the “Secret Codes” issue of Nautilus. She lived in the GDR in the 1980s and holds a degree in German language and literature from Leipzig University. She makes her home in Northern California with her Iranian-born husband and is currently writing a novel set in modern-day Iran.
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6 Responses to Picnics and Rain Gods

  1. Norma Huss says:

    Heidi, your stories of the Iranian culture always fascinate me. It’s remarkable how much of the world we American’s don’t know about.


    • Heidi Noroozy says:

      Thanks, Norma. I hope that I can help people understand the richness of this fascinating culture.

  2. Supriya Savkoor says:

    Ditto what Norma said. The sabzeh ritual is such an amazing tribute to nature! And how come thirteen is such an unlucky number in various cultures? There must be a good story there somewhere. And chocolate eggs and picnics? Sure you aren’t mixing up your holidays? Happy Good Friday, by the way. 🙂

    • Heidi Noroozy says:

      I’d like to know where the unlucky 13 comes from, too. The significance for sizdah bedar must have been introduced after the celebration was around for a while. It started as a fertility rite to bring the rain, and Tir’s special day just happened to be the 13th day of the month. As for the chocolate eggs. They are supposed to be real eggs that you paint, just like Easter eggs. But I’m too lazy to do that, so I buy chocolate ones. I like the way all these different cultural traditions get mixed up.

  3. Kathy says:

    It’s interesting that on the unlucky thirteenth, people won’t stay inside for fear of bad luck. Having picnics is much more fun than hiding in the house on Friday the 13th. I enjoyed the post. ~ A New Guppy

    • Heidi Noroozy says:

      Thanks, Kathy! I think the idea is to go outside so you don’t bring back luck into the house. Or maybe that’s just my interpretation. The picnics are a lot of fun, though. Unless it’s raining… 🙂

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