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Charshambehsuri & Persian New Year

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My first recollection of jumping over fire was when I was about 5 or 6 in London. It was a cold winter’s night and my uncles set up a small fire in my grandparent’s yard for the jumping.

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There truly isn’t anything more thrilling than jumping over a fire with family and friends. The laughter, the mocking, the spirit and memories, it’s amazing. As a child the fires were about a foot high and the older I got the bigger they got. The biggest fire that I have ever jumped over or maybe ran threw was about 5 feet tall and it was during my visit to Iran about 12 years ago. I know it sounds insane that anyone would do this but there is a reason and history behind it and generation after next have done it for centuries.

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In Persian tradition, Chahar Shanbeh Souri (pronounced Chār sham béh sūe ree), or the festival of fire, is held on the last Tuesday of winter and acts as a prelude to the Persian New Year (No Roruz).

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The festival is famous for the ancient tradition of jumping over a bonfire to bid farewell to winter. It is an ancient Iranian festival dating back to at least 1700 BCE of the early Zoroastrian era. There are Zoroastrian religious significance attached to Chahārshanbeh Suri and it also serves as a cultural festival for all Iranian peoples including Persian Jews, Persian Muslims, Assyrians native to Iran, Persian Armenians, Kurds, and Persian Zoroastrians.
Bonfires are lit in public or private places and it is hoped for enlightenment and happiness throughout the coming year.

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People leap over the flames, shouting: Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to (my yellow is yours, your red is mine). This is a purification rite, loosely translated, this means you want the fire to take your pallor, sickness, and problems from the past year and in turn give you redness, warmth, and energy. The jumping over the fire cleanses us of all the misfortunes and impurities of the past year and gets us ready to welcome the coming New Year.

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Another tradition of this day is to make special ajeel (mixed nuts and berries), wear a disguise and go door to door knocking asking for ajeel (basically a healthier trick or treating idea). Sadly this little tradition didn’t pass over when we immigrated out of Iran. Can you imagine getting a knock on the door on a random Tuesday in March and a stranger who is in costume asks for your nuts and berries! Tonight as I sat in my friend’s house eating ajeel watching our children ages 4-10 jumping over fire I felt so content that our tradition had continued. The scream of excitement and laughter from the children warms my heart. My children have been waiting all year long for this moment and this is the first year my daughter, who is 5, jumped on her own. In the next few days it will be No Rouz and the children will be expecting money from various family members.

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Chahar Shanbeh Souri is a warm welcome to Noruz, the first day of spring. In preparing for Persian New Year we first clean our houses from top to bottom, hence the term spring cleaning. Then we set up our Haftseen or the seven ‘S’s is a traditional table setting of Noruz. The Haftseen table includes the following items which symbolize Zoroastrian divinities:

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  • Sabzeh – wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
  • Samanu – sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence
  • Senjed – dried oleaster Wild Olive fruit – symbolizing love
  • Sir – garlic – symbolizing medicine
  • Sib – apples – symbolizing beauty and health
  • Somāq – sumac fruit – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise
  • Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing old-age and patience

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In Persian culture we celebrate our New Year for 13 days. That means 13 days of going house to house and wishing friends, family, etc a happy year to come. At each visit you are given something to eat and if you are lucky enough, you get to pick money out of either the Koran or Book of Hafez. When my mom was young she would see over 100 family members and would gain a few pounds in weight as well as a few bills in her wallet. On the 13th day of the Iranian New Year, which brings the Noruz celebrations to an end, we go out to a park and have a final get together. If you’ve even driven by Mason Park at the end of March and seen 20,000 people that was the 13th day.

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I’m an OC mom of two and photographer. I love living in Southern California and want to expose my children to all that it offers. I love taking my kids on adventures and capturing their every moment so much so that my kids find it odd if I don’t take their pictures. You can see my work on facebook.com/photosbynaz.
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