The joyous festival of Chahār-shanba-sūrī is derived from the Zoroas­trian Vernal Equinox celebrations, which are started 5-10 days before Naúvrooz. The choice of Wednesday, as well as jumping over fire, instead of dancing around it, must have originated after the Islamic conquest. The choice of the last Wednesday of the year is likely to have been prompted by an Islamic belief that Wednesdays are unlucky. On the other hand, the use of great many lamps, candles, bonfires and lavish decoration and illumination with bright lamps (cherāghāni) had a long history in ancient Zoroastrian Iran.

On the last Wednesday of the year brushwood is laid out in the house yard or in a village square or city street; the brushwood is arranged in one, three, five, or seven bundles (always an odd number) spaced a few feet apart. At sunset the bundles are set alight, and while the flames flicker in the dusk men, women, and children make merry around the fire. It is believed that the energy derived from the leaping flames renders one immune for a whole year to maladies and misfortunes that make people pale and ill. No one must blow on the fire; it is left to extinguish and must never  be quenched with water.

The ashes are later removed, usually by a girl who has not yet reached puberty. She carries them in a pan to a crossroads, where she scatters them, then returns home. Thereafter, the following questions and answers are exchanged: “Where do you come from?” “From a most happy event.” “What have you brought?” “Good fortune and health.”

The custom to welcome the new year with bonfires and bright lights persisted in virtu­ally every Iranian town and village even during the Islamic times, despite objec­tions from moslem theologians,. For the first two years after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 the Islamic government prohibited celebration of Chahār-shanba-sūrī, declaring it a relic of decadent fire worship, but the people persisted in lighting the fires, and eventually the authorities had no choice but to relent; the practice is now grudgingly tolerated.

In addition to lighting fires, various additional rituals are performed;

Burning Incense; Burning rue seeds (esfand) or frankincense (kóndor) at the eve of Chahār.shanba-sūrī is a widespread practice, being considered a necessary precaution against the evil eye. Rue, frankincense and a small amount of salt are thrown into the fire.

Banging spoons (qāshoq-zanī). Another very popular custom on Chahār-shanba-sūrī is to bang spoons against plates or bowls. After the night has grown dark, women and children, each with a spoon and a plate, go to the doors of their neighbors’ houses and bang the spoons against the plates. In response the householder puts a small gift—sweets, fruits, or some nuts—on each plate. This is very similar to the Halloween rituals.

Smashing the pot (kūza-shekanī); this custom is rooted in the belief that smashing a pot transfers bad luck from the people to the pot. There are slight variations in different regions. In Khorasan a lump of charcoal symbolizing bad luck, salt to ward off the evil eye, and coins for charity are put into the pot before it is smashed. In Arāk and the Āshtīān district, grains of barley are put into the pot.

Fortune telling (fāl); Another popular practice is fortune telling from a jug. Everyone present puts an ornament—into the jug. Then slips of paper inscribed with verses or sentences containing auguries—the number of slips must equal the number of people present. A young child is assigned to reach into the jug and pull out one piece of paper and give it to the most learned or literate person in the party. Then the child pulls one of the ornaments from the jug. The man reads aloud the verse on the piece of paper, and the owner of the ornament learns from it what his or her fortune will be. In many places, including Isfahan and towns in central Iran, it is customary to take the fortunes from a copy of the dīvān of Ḥāfeẓ, rather than from pieces of paper. The reader chooses a verse at random as the fortune for the owner of the object taken from the pot. At Isfahan a small mirror, which supposedly bring good luck, are added to the ornaments in the.

Food on Chahār-shanba-sūrī; Families customarily enjoy snacks during the evening and a dinner at night after the end of the festivities. The usual snacks are nuts and dried fruits, including salted hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Dinner depends on available local ingredients. But generally a fragrant herb rice pillaf sabzī-­polow with fish is served. At Qazvīn and Garmsār sabzī-polow is made with wild herbs. In Khorasan several kinds of polow or rice pilaf with lentils, raisins, wild herbs, nuts, pistachio and saffron are served. Wine plays a very important role in all Zoroastrian ceremonies and plenty of it is served on happy occasions such as this.


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1 Response to Chahār-shanba-sūrī

  1. zaneta garratt says:

    these are beautiful ancient customs, so nice that they are preserved and practised so well-and i like the poetry of Hafiz

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