Fire is a fundamental element, often celebrated or used as a tool of celebration in many old nations, still practicing traditions dating back as far as centuries or millennia ago.
Iran, as one of the most ancient civilizations still standing, celebrates a festival mostly dedicated to fire known as Chaharshanbe Suri (also pronounced Charshanbe Suri) translating to The Scarlet Wednesday in English
What is Chaharshanbe Suri?
Chaharshanbe Suri is celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian year followed closely by Nowruz Eid on the (usually) following week when the Iranian new year is celebrated on the spring equinox. The festival is also in practice in many other countries by a great number of people namely Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iraqi Kurdistan; but Chaharshanbe Suri is generally mostly recognized as an Iranian festival celebrated by all the different ethnic groups of Iran from the west to the east and from the north to the south. Our Classical Cultural Tours of Iran might be suitable for those who are passionate to know more about the culture and history of Iran outside of Chaharshanbe Suri.
What does Chaharshanbe Suri mean?
The word ‘Chaharshanbe’ means Wednesday in Persian, and ‘Suri’ is most probably derived of the old Persian word for Scarlet (still used in some local dialects in some regions of Iran) as to refer to the red color of the fire. Although some might argue that the word ‘Suri’ might have roots in the Persian word for festive too. As a result, Chaharshanbe Suri ended up with ‘The Scarlet Wednesday’ in the English translation.
History of Chaharshanbe Suri in ancient Iran:
Chaharshanbe Suri, like many other ancient Iranian traditions, comes from a Zoroastrian background and clearly originates from the importance, holiness and purification of fire in ancient Indo-European religions and beliefs.
In the ancient Iranian rituals, which later turned into what we now know as Chaharshanbe Suri, the ancient people of Iran would celebrate the last five days of each year to honor their dead ones and believed that the spirits of the dead would show up within those days for a reunion with their family and loved ones. The festival of Chaharshanbe Suri would also be accompanied by celebrating the creation of fire.
Chaharshanbe Suri shares some interesting similarities with the Obon event in Japan and the Ghost Day of China, both coming from a Buddhist origin.
How is Chaharshanbe Suri celebrated by Iranians?
Jumping Over the Fire:
The oldest, most popular and most traditional way to celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri of course, would be to jump over the fire. To do so, people create a huge bonfire in a safe, open area in public and then gather around and jump over the fire one by one and turn as they sing: ‘sorkhi-ye to az man, zardi-ye man az to’ which roughly translates into: ‘Let your redness be mine, my paleness yours!’. Redness signifies health and paleness is supposedly sickness, so the song is asking for the fire to take away the illness and gift the person with health instead. As fire is considered to purify things, this is also a purification ritual that is widely done on Chaharshanbe Suri. Jumping over the fire is the best option to feast Chaharshanbe Suri with your friends, family and loved ones.
Burning rue seeds (in Persian: Esfand) is generally an old practice done all over in Iran in order to pry away the evil eye as well as to prevent demons, evil spirits or Jinns from getting close to a person or a place or to banish them. It is commonly done during Chaharshanbe Suri while reciting songs specific to burning rue as the seeds are thrown into the bonfire.
Spoon-banging on Chaharshanbe Suri:
Spoon banging or Ghashogh Zani as it is called in Persian, is a Chaharshanbe Suri tradition in which children (and in some cases adults too!) cover their faces, usually with sheets and go door to door around the neighborhood in disguise with bowls and spoons in their hands. They knock on doors and then bang the spoons on the bowls as a way to ask for treats and snacks from the owner of the house. The tradition is evidently very similar to the trick or treating costume of Halloween in English-speaking countries.
Unfortunately spoon banging is dying out in bigger cities and is not as popular as it used to be in the older days of the past decades, but is still practiced in villages and smaller cities in some areas of Iran during Chaharshanbe Suri and has not completely faded away.
Modern celebration of Chaharshanbe Suri in Iran:
In modern day Iran, and throughout the few past decades, fireworks of any kind or shape have grown in popularity among the people of Iran as tools of celebrating Chaharshanbe Suri.
If you’re spending your Chaharshanbe Suri in Iran, it’s impossible to miss or even forget the event! As soon as the sun starts to set on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year, you can hear and see the fireworks going off everywhere and lighting up the dark sky of the night. The fireworks won’t stop up until it’s almost midnight.
Fireworks exploding in a dozen different colors all night as people sing, dance and jump over the fire is a sight to be seen and the modern way to celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri. Perhaps the desire to witness such an event can become one of the reasons to travel to Iran, of course after Iran’s tourist places.
What do Iranians eat during Chaharshanbe Suri?
Iranians usually snack on Ajil as the evening of the festival goes by. Ajil is a mix of salted nuts and dried fruits served for special events and family gatherings. In Persian traditions a special mix of Ajil is made specifically for Chaharshanbe Suri and is said to grant the wishes of the person who feeds on it on the night of Chaharshanbe Suri.
Different cities of Iran each have a different main dish dedicated to Chaharshanbe Suri and the dish varies from a place to another. Most northern cities serve Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (herbed rice with fish) for Chaharshanbe Suri and some towns around the center of the country serve Polo (rice) with pasta soup. The longer the pasta strands, the longer family members live. Food Diversity in Iran is one of the most interesting things about the country which is highly affected by the peculiar geography and diversity of the many ethnic groups residing within the land. Our Eco Tours and Island Tours might interest you if you’re curious about the nature of Iran.
Chaharshanbe Suri proves to be one of the most ancient and popular traditions of Iran, having lasted for thousands of years to be still celebrated by Iranians in the present time. To learn more about old Iranian traditions check out Nowruz Eid, Sepandarmazgan and Yalda Night: an Iranian celebration of the first night of winter and know more intriguing facts about celebrations and events in Iran.
- When is Chaharshanbe Suri?
Chaharshanbe Suri is celebrated on the last Wednesday of the Persian year.
- How is Chaharshanbe Suri celebrated?
Chaharshanbe Suri is celebrated by people making a bonfire and jumping over the fire, fireworks, burning rue, spoon-banging and snacks specific to Chaharshanbe Suri.
- What does jumping over the fire symbolize?
Jumping over the fire and singing for the fire to take away illness is most probably originated from a purification ritual and symbolizes burning away your problems.
- Why do people celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri?
Chaharshanbe Suri is celebrated on the last Wednesday before Nowruz (Iranian New year) in hopes of bringing health and happiness for the incoming year.
- Where is Chaharshanbe Suri celebrated?
Chaharshanbe Suri is widely celebrated in Iran and Iranians outside of Iran and also by some groups of people in some of the neighboring countries.