My yellowness for you, your redness for me

The Iranian New Year 2570 begins (in London) on Sunday 21st March at 23.21 (click here for times in other places)

Happy New Year everyone! Happy Norooz!

Just in case you’re not up to speed, here’s a great 47 second ‘History for Dummies’ video guide to Norooz. Even if you dont understand any Persian, you can easily see that its about the Haft Sin (featured last year), the Hajji Firouz running around the streets blacked up, spring cleaning, getting new clothes for yourself and presents to take to your friends when you visit. Unsurprisingly food is important too!

Safavid painting of the Chaharshanbe Suri celebration in the Chehel Sotun, Isfahan. Photo by Reza Nazarbeygi

Maybe you missed it, but Wednesday was a key day too: Chaharshanbe Suri or Red Wednesday is a time for special customs and rituals, most commonly jumping over fires. You light the fire to stop the sun from setting and sing Zardn-ye man az to, sorkhn-ye to az man whilst you jump. This literally means “My yellowness for you, your redness for me”, and signifies the paleness of pain and sickness being replaced with the warm and vibrancy of health and strength, as the spring replaces winter.

Me and my driver, Mehdi. We've just jumped over the fire (after rashly pouring petrol on it) and are now keeping warm.

The bonfires derive from Zoroastrian fire ceremonies but – despite various Islamic rulers (including the Abbasids and Fatimids) trying to ban the fires – the rituals have continued. There is a wall painting in Chehel Sotun, in Isfahan, of a Safavid Chaharshanbe Suri ceremony, and the other picture here is of the fire that I jumped over when I first visited Iran (it was lots more impressive/scary when we jumped!). That year, the holy month of Ashura and Iranian New Year coincided, so the celebrations were muted. As I was camping in an orchard at the time, we could light our fire unobserved (you might notice my somewhat cavalier manteau but don’t worry, o you guardians of morals – we had separate tents!).

The film here shows some more organised jumping, over the lines of bonfires that you ideally use (look especially between 15 and 30 seconds). See how the adults are helping the littlest children get over the fires!

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