Persian festivities and ceremonies
Jashns are the Middle and New Persian forms of Avestan yasna, meaning "an act of worship," and a religious service is an essential part of every festival. Since every jasan is essentially a holy occasion, those taking part should be in a state of physical and ritual cleanliness, for dirt and pollution belong to the evil creation and prevent prayers and worship reaching the divine beings. They should also seek to banish from their thoughts any "demons" of anger, grief, resentment, or the like, and try rather to entertain contentment, cheerfulness, and charitable feelings towards all, such as are pleasing to the yazatas. Thereafter it was a pleasant duty to be as merry as possible, since in Zoroastrian doctrine joyfulness is a positive virtue, a weapon to defeat sorrow and care. Feasting, the friendly and enjoyable sharing of food and drink forms a prominent part of Zoroastrian festivals.
Persian New Year Celebration
Norouz is strong testimony to Iranian rich civilization, national characteristics and history. It proves how a nation with is irreversible determination to endure, and even flourish, through periods of devastation, political chaos, hardship and oppression. For centuries, Persians have applied the Norouz spirit to every dark challenge that has come their way. This spirit has made Norouz far more than just a New Year celebration over the course of history. Norouz is a relic of ancient times. A memory of old tales and epics, a celebration of rebirth and rejuvenation. According to Zoroastrians, the month of Favardin (the first month of the Iranian solar calendar) refers to Faravahis, or spirits, which return to the material world during the last 10 days of the year. Thus, they honor the 10-day in order to appease the spirits of their deceased ancestors. The Iranian tradition of visiting cemeteries on the last Thursday of the year may have originated from this belief.
Celebrating Yalda Night
Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals. On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness. Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda eve is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the god of light.
Yalda, which means birth, is a Syiac word imported into the Persian language. It is also referred to as Shab-e Chelleh, a celebration of winter solstice on December 21- the last night of fall and the longest night of the year. Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda.
In addition to Iran, Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and some Caucasian states such as Azerbaijan and Armenia share the same tradition and celebrate Yalda Night annually at this time of the year. On this night, family members get together (most often in the house of the eldst member) and stay awake all night long. Dried nuts, watermelon and pomegranate are served, as supplications to God for increasing his bounties, as well classic poetry and old mythologies are read aloud. Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Therefore, eating watermelons is one of the most important traditions in this night. Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life- the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and their bright red seeds the glow of life.
As days start lengthening, ancient Iranians believe that at the end of the first night of witnter which coincides with December 21 this year, darkness is defeated by light and therefore they must celebrate the whole nitght. As the 13 th- century Iranian poet Sa'di writes in his book Boustan: "The true morning will not come until the Yalda Night is gone."
Early Christians linked this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, and to the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus. In birth, su and Prophet Jesus are close to each other, syas one Iranian tale of Yalda. Today, Christmas is celebrated slightly off from Yalda Night. However, Christmas and Yalda are both celebrated in similar fashion by staying up all night and celebrating it with family and friends, and eating special foods.
Iranians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month 'Azar' is the longest night of the year, when the forces of evil are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. The next day, which is the first day of the month 'Dey' known as 'khorram rooz' or 'khore rooz' (the day of the sun), belongs to ahura Mazda, the lord of wosdom. Since days become longer are nights shorter, this day marks the victory of the sun over darkness. The occasion was celebrated as the festival of 'Deygan', which is dedicated to Ahura Mazda on the first day of 'Dey'.
One of the other traditions of Yalda night, which has been added in recent centuries, is the recitation of the classic poetry of Hafez, the Iranian poet of 14 th century. AD. Each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the book and asks the eldest member of the family to read it aloud. What is expressed in that poem is believed to be th interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true. This is called Faal-e Hafez (Hafez Omen). Coinciding with the beginning of the winter, Yalda is an occasion to celebration the end of the crop season. It is today an event to thank the Lord for all blessings and to pray for prosperity in the next year.
Sadeh is an ancient Iranian tradition celebrated 50 days before nowrouz. Sadeh in Persian means "hundred" and refers to one hundred days and nights left to the beginning of the new year celebrated at the first day of spring on March 21 each year. Sadeh is a mid winter festival that was celebrated with grandeur and magnificence in ancient Iran. It was a festivity to honor fire and to defeat the forces of darkness, frost, and cold.
Legends have it that King Hushang, the 2nd king of the mythological Pishdadian dynasty (Peshdad means to give the Law), established the Sadeh tradition. It is said that once Hushang was climbing a mountain when all of a sudden he saw a snake and wanter to hit it with a stone. When he threw the stone, it fell another stone and since they were both flint stones, fire broke out and the snake escaped. This way he discovered how to light a fire. Hushang cheered up and praised God who revealed to him the secret of lighting a fire. Then he announced: "This is a light from God. So we must admire it."
According to religious beliefs, Jashn-e Sadeh recalls the importance of light, fire and energy; light which comes from God is found in the hearts of his creatures. During ancient times, Jashn-e Sadeh was celebrated by lighting fire. For Zoroastrians the chief preparation for Sadeh was and still in some parts is the gathering of wood the day before the festival. Teenage boys accompanied by a few adult males would go to local mountains in order to gather camel thorns, a common desert shrub in Iran. For most, this is the first time they are away from their families. The occasion resembles a ritual of passage to adulthood, a notable step for the boys on the way to manhood. The boys would take the camel thorns to the temples in their cities; and if it were their first time doing this, on their return, a celebration was held at home with the presence of friends and families.
During ancient times, the fires were always set near water and the temples. The fire originally meant to assist the revival of sun and bring back the warmth and light of summer. It was also meant to drive off the demons of frost and cold, which turned water to ice, and thus could kill the roots of plants. The fire was kept burning all night. The day after, of the fire back to their homes to make new glowing fire from the "blessed fire" of the temple. This is to spread the blessing of the Sadeh fire to every household in the neighborhood. Whatever is left from the fire would be taken back to the shrine to be placed in one container and kept at the temple until the next year. This way the fire is kept burning all year round. The "eternal fire" also symbolizes the love of homeland, which is always alive like a fervent fire in the people's hearts. The festivities would normally go on for three days. Th evenings are spent eating and giving out foods as donations, food that is prepared from slaughtered lambs and is distributed among the poor people.
The most elaborate report of the celebration of Sadeh after the dominations of Muslims over Iran comes from the 10 th century AD during the reign of Mardavij of Ziyarid dynasty, the ruler of Esfahan. Ziyarid dynasty did their best to keep the Persian traditions alive. Although for the majority of Iranians Sadeh has no religious significance and no specific rituals are involved other than lighting fires at sunset and having a cheerful time, Iranians of all faiths make a collective effort at this day to keep up with their ancient traditions and to celebrate the precious things God granted humanity.
Fire, which is considered as a symbol of purity and knowledge, has two special peculiarities in Zoroastrianism:
1- It has the power of immediately transmuting everything it touches into a likeness of itself;
2- The flames of fire always tend upwards, symbolizing the human yearning for the Higher Lief.
Thus, according to Eternal Law, by which all progress upwards is guided, fire is the very natural step toward such Higher Lif. Zoroastrians keep fire burning in their fire temples as a symbol of purity. They pray in front of the fire and believe it cannot be defiled as long as it is burning. It should be noted that Zoroastrians for not worship fire. It is only a symbol of priority and a remembrance of one of God's best blessings for humanity. The Iranian Prophet Zarathustra chose fire as his symbol, for it is believed by some to be the purest among God's creations.