Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Sizdah Bedar is the Persian festival of nature and is celebrated on the 13th day of the new year in the month of Farvardin (corresponding to April 2), the last day of the Norooz period. This is the last phase of the New Year's celebrations which begins with the fire festival of Chaharshanbeh Soori of the Persian New Year. As Chaharshanbeh Soori is part of the traditions to welcome Norooz, Sizdah Bedar is one to escort the celebrations away. The first 12 days of the year hold special importance as they symbolize order in the world and in the lives of people. The 13th day marks the beginning of the return to ordinary daily life and inaugurates a happy new year. The custom is to spend the day outdoors, in the parks or the countryside. It is believed that joy and laughter clean the mind from all evil thoughts and the picnic is a festive or happy event.
This day was not celebrated in this manner before Islam and might be the result of several rituals combined into one. This day was devoted to the deity Tishtrya (Tir), the protector of rain which is depicted as a horse. In the Zoroastrian calendar each day is named after a deity with this particular day in the month of Farvardin named after Tishtrya. In the past there were outdoor festivities to pray to this deity in hope of rain that was essential for agriculture. The act of throwing away the sabzeh from Haft Sin into rivers and running waters on this day also indicates veneration for a water deity. The act symbolically represents an offering made to such a deity.
In Zoroastrian cosmology there was a mythical river out of which all rivers flow. Clouds also took up rain from the same mythical river. Every year Tishtrya goes to the river in shape of a white stallion to fight the Demon of Dearth, appearing in shape of a black stallion. After his victory, Trishtrya rushes into the sea and water flows and is dispersed. Some of the water is mixed with seeds of plants which sprout as the rain falls. Ancient Iranian rituals quite often enacted their mythologies; waters were respected and many rites existed with respect to waters. It is very likely that several of these were combined to preserve some aspect of the ancient celebrations venerating waters. Up until the 19th Century, there was horseracing occurring on this day, which very likely represented the fight between the two stallions.
The supposed bad luck associated with this day (and perhaps also with the number 13 in general) stems from the fact that ancient Persians believed that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year. Each ruled the earth for a thousand years at the end of which the sky and earth collapsed in chaos. Therefore the thirteenth is identified with chaos, and unluckiness of the thirteenth day of the feast represents the final collapse of the universe and its order. As a result the Persians attempt to symbolically avoid bad luck on the thirteenth day of the Persian Calendar by leaving their houses and spending the day outside of their native dwelling. On this day carrying out daily tasks and observance of the general order should accordingly be interrupted and instead should be spent partaking in festivities out in the open to celebrate the eventual triumph of nature and the beginning of a new year.
In modern times people go to parks, have a picnic and throw their sabzeh into a river, symbolizing the cycle of life. Iranian people have a tradition of gathering their family members and grouping them together with the other families to spend a full day of picnic outdoors among the other countrymen at the beauty of the nature on the 13th day of Norooz celebrations. This kind of joy and solidarity has been celebrated among Iranian people for thousands of years, every year, in the same day, 13th day of the first month of the Iranian Calendar. People will also release their Haft Sin goldfish into a pond or river. The festivities continue all day until sunset. Various kinds of food and delicacies are prepared with tea, local drinks, fruits, bread, cheese and fresh herbs, noodle soup (ash’e reshteh).
Traditionally, people play practical jokes on each other and tell white lies on this day, calling it the thirteenth lie (this is very similar to April Fools Day). It is believed to be the oldest prank-tradition in the world still alive today, which has led many to believe that the origins of the April Fools Day goes back to this tradition which is believed to have been celebrated by Persians as far back as 536 BC.
Another tradition on the Sizdah Bedar, is the knotting of blades of grass by unmarried girls in hope of finding a good companion at these kinds of celebrations. The other family members may also meet the others at the festival and find possible candidates for their unmarried daughters, as well as sons, and to make arrangements for their proper introduction at later time. The knotting of the grass represents the wish for good fortune in life and love and the bond between a man and a woman. As the blade grows and eventually the knot is opened, it symbolizes finding a solution to hardships and wishes coming true.
A ritual performed at the end of the picnic day is to throw away the sabzeh from the Norooz Haftsin table. The sabzeh is supposed to have collected all the sickness, pain and ill fate hiding on the path of the family throughout the coming year. Touching someone else's sabzeh on this thirteenth day or bringing it home, therefore, is considered to be a bad omen and may invite other peoples' pain and hardship to oneself. By throwing the sabzeh in running water, lethargy, lassitude and wariness are believed to be washed away.