Chaharshanbe Suri is the last Wednesday of the year in Iran. People participate in a festival of fireworks and parties to celebrate the upcoming spring, and the new year. They gather together and jump over fire while laughing and reciting poetry. Next time you’re applying for an Iran visa, you might want to be in Iran during the Chaharshanbe Suri festival. So, in this article, we’ll take a look at what happens in Chaharshanbe Suri.
Chaharshanbe Suri is composed of the two terms “Chaharshanbe” and “Sur”, and some believe that “Sur” means a celebration. Others believe that it means a red flower and is a sign of fire. Still, others believe that it metaphorically refers to human health as a red-colored phenomenon. In Kurdish and Luri, “Sur” means red, and the word was changed from “Chaharshanbe Surkhi”, which means “the red Wednesday” to “Chaharshanbe Suri“.
There are many myths about the origin of Chaharshanbe Suri, but since ancient times, the fire in Iran has been a symbol of brightness, purity, refreshment, creativity, life, and health. It was also the symbol of God on earth. Chaharshanbe Suri is like a prologue to the coming of the new year. This tradition is still prevalent among different ethnic groups. Although some believe that it has Zoroastrian roots, this claim cannot be substantiated. Numerous Iranian celebrations and rituals belonging to all Iranians date back to the pre-Aryan emigration to the land, many of which were never Zoroastrian.
The hypothesis that Chaharshanbe Suri is for the Zoroastrians is rejected because fire is so sacred to them. In fact, jumping over the fire is a disgrace. Chaharshanbe Suri, on the other hand, has its roots in the Hamas-path-maedem gahambar, as well as the celebration of the Farvahar Fall, which took place six days before the arrival of Nowruz. The Zoroastrians believed that the souls of the departed relatives would come to the earth and would gather together. So, they would light a fire on the roofs of their houses, sit around it, and pray.
As the Sassanids were Zoroastrians, this ritual for the return of the spirits of the dead was common from the last five days of the year to the 5th of Farvardin. These ten days were divided into two parts, the “Small Panjeh” and the “Big Panjeh.” “Panjeh” means five days. They believed that the Small Panjeh was for the souls of children and those who died innocently. The Big Panjeh was for everyone else.
The pre-Islamic Iranians didn’t hold the celebration on a specific day. It was usually in late winter when the ground was getting warm. After the Arab invasion, Iranians started to hold the celebration on the last Wednesday of the year. This was probably because of the fact that Wednesday was an ominous day for the Arabs. They believed that lighting fire on this day would eliminate its bad omen because the fire in Islam is the manifestation of purity.
Some believe that flames on this day are reminiscent of the New Year’s Eve celebrations with fireworks on the roofs. In addition, jumping over the fire is reminiscent of Siavash’s passing through the fire, also mentioned in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. Plus, there is a reference to Bazm (celebration) near Nowruz in Shahnameh, which indicates that Chaharshanbe Suri is very ancient.
There was a large statue of a cannon in the middle of the Arg Square in Tehran during the Qajar period. During Chaharshanbe Suri festival and on some other occasions, unmarried girls would gather around the cannon. They would recite poetry and would climb the cannon’s barrel only to slide down. They believed this would provide them with a chance to get married the next year.
The ancient Iranians believed that fire had cleansing and disinfecting features. It was part of public rituals to clean up houses before the New Year. They didn’t want to keep the dirt of the year and pass it to the new year.
Families and people come together to put together firewood and bushes collected a couple of days before the last Wednesday of the year. They light them in the backyards, streets, or village squares. Firewood should be in odd (not even) bundles. Everyone should jump over fire and recite the poem “My yellowness will be for you; your redness will be for me” to the fire. This means that “I am giving my sickness and unhappiness to you, and you are giving me health and happiness. The Iranians believe that doing so will save them from ill-health and misery through the following year. Also, the fire should not be extinguished by people but by itself. Then, they pour a jar of water over it and throw the ash away.
Today, there is usually the Zoroastrian celebration of reading Avasta, with seven types of dried fruit such as raisins, figs, almonds, dates, berries, and pistachios for the guests. The seven dried fruit of the Zoroastrian is very similar to the nuts of Chaharshanbe Suri, and eating them is somehow obligatory on this night.
There used to be lots of interesting Iranian traditions and customs on Chaharshanbe Suri. Most of them are forgotten today. But you can still find them in some parts of Iran. Iran tailor-made tour can help you with this.
Because people used to use earthenware, they said that they should not be used for more than a year because they cannot be washed and cleaned, so they must be discarded before the New Year.
Qashoq-Zani is a Chaharshanbe Suri custom that you can still find in some cities in Iran. It is very similar to the giving away of candies and chocolates on Halloween. During Qashoq-Zani, children, and sometimes adults, go around their neighborhood with spoons and something to put food in (like a bowl, bucket, or anything similar). They hit it with the spoon to make noises so that people in the houses know they are coming. Then, if you are in the house, you should open the door and give them some food or nuts specific to Chaharshanbe Suri. The Zoroastrians believe (in the Avesta) that souls of the departed come to the earth 5 days before Nowruz and leave it 5 days after it. Qashoq-Zani was a remembrance and a blessing to them.
Falgoosh-neshini is an ancient ritual of both Chaharshanbe Suri and Nowruz. This ritual has been forgotten in most parts of Iran, but it is still prevalent in Talesh and some other parts of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It is a kind of fortune-telling. During Falgoosh, or Gereh-goshaei (solving the problems), young girls make an intention in their hearts and stand quietly behind the doors and walls to hear the passers-by speak. Then, they interpret what they hear as if related to their intentions.
Shawl-dropping is one of the ancient rituals associated with Chaharshanbe Suri. Nowadays, especially in Hamadan and Zanjan provinces, the ritual has remained popular. On Chaharshanbe Suri night, after breaking jars, listening to fortunes, and hitting spoons, when the fire gets extinguished, the young people tie several silk napkins together and make a colorful string. Then, they go through the stairs of the houses or up the walls over to the roofs of the family or neighbors’ houses. They pass the string through the chimney or any other hole that has a way to the house. Then, with a few loud coughs, they let the housekeeper know that they’re on the roof. The homeowners, looking at the string, and put what they have prepared in the corner of the shawl and tie it to make a pouch.
Then, with a gentle shake, they inform the string holder that the “Suri gift” is ready. The young pull up the string of scarfs (shawls).
What is inside the napkin is both a fortune-telling gift and a Wednesday gift. If that gift is a loaf of bread, it is a sign of blessing. Sweets are a sign of sweetness and happiness. Pomegranates are a sign of childbearing. Walnuts are a sign of longevity. Almonds and hazelnuts indicate hardiness and tolerance. Raisins are a sign of well-being. Sometimes people make a joke with the string and tie a small broom to it, which is a sign of frustration and helplessness.
Reading Shahnameh and storytelling around the fire is another tradition on Chaharshanbe Suri. Usually, the elders of the family perform this ritual. In the meantime, those who have a background in the art of music usually perform with their own instruments. Some sing or recite poetry with the New Year and the coming of spring as the subject matter. These are inseparable from all Iranian festivals and ceremonies. Another example is performing these on Yalda Night.
Food traditions are colorful and interesting when it comes to Chaharshanbe Suri. People give away a portion of what they make because they believe this would make their wishes come true. In Mazandaran, you’ll find Gazaneh Ash, a kind of popular stew made with nettles. In Arak, people make Halva and give it away to the passers-by. Fruit Ash is popular in Ardebil for Chaharshanbe Suri. People in Shiraz and Isfahan prefer to serve Morasa Polo. In short, whatever city you get to be in on Chaharshanbe Suri, delicious Iranian food is awaiting you.
In the past, one of the customs of Chaharshanbe Suri was that the household would heat the last vegetable seeds on the sacred fire and bless them with salt. They believed that the person who ate this would be kinder to other people and would abandon jealousy.
Another custom of Chaharshanbe Suri is the cooking of Ash-e Reshte (something like noodle soup, but far more complicated and delicious). This tradition is especially prevalent in Shiraz and they send it to each other’s houses after cooking. Also, in Mazandaran Province, they cook Ash of the Seven Pickles (Haft Turshi).
From ancient times, and as far as history shows, man has given special importance to fire and has attributed the development of an important part of his life to this useful element. But for Iranians, fire is a manifestation of brightness, purity, freshness, creativity, health, and wellness. Diseases, ugliness, evil, and all pests lie in darkness. Therefore, the demon is the manifestation of darkness, and its place is in darkness. Metaphorically, igniting fire means finding a clear way for knowledge in the heart and soul so that it destroys the effects of evil and disgrace. A series of Aryan celebrations are actually celebrations of fire, such as Sadeh, Azergan, and Shahrivargan.
Chaharshanbe Suri is celebrated in some other countries as well. These include Turkey, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and some parts of China.
Although Chaharshanbe Suri’s customs are almost the same everywhere in Iran, some customs are more prominent in some cities and provinces. In Mazandaran, for example, Shawl Andazi used to be highly popular and is still prevalent in some places there. In Ardebil, Falgoosh is popular. They also have their own pieces of folkloric songs to recite. In Zanjan, women bring a cradle out of the house. When the cradle is moving left and right, they drop a match over it. If the match falls into the cradle, the popular belief is that the owner gets pregnant in the New Year. In short, you will find unique customs along with universal traditions in different cities of Iran. Iran cultural tours can help you find the right city for this special night.
Chaharshanbe Suri is an ancient ceremony for Iranians. When it gets close to the Iranian New Year, tourists start to come to Iran from all over the world. If you want to spend the last Wednesday of the Iranian calendar in Iran, make sure you stay in cities that still respect the old traditions. You’ll enjoy seeing thousands of years of rituals still going on among people.