Thursday, March 11, 2010

Charshanbeh Soori

Charshanbeh Soori (چهارشنبه سوری) is the ancient Iranian festival dating at least back to 1,700 BCE of the early Zoroastrian era. The festival of fire is a prelude to the ancient Norooz festival, which marks the arrival of spring and revival of nature. Charshanbeh Soori is celebrated the last Tuesday night of the year. The word Charshanbeh means Wednesday and Soori is red. The bonfires are lit at the sunset and the idea is to not let the sun set. Bon fires are lit to keep the sun alive till early hours of the morning and with the help of fire and light, enlightenment and happiness is hoped for throughout the coming year. On this occasion people make bonfires on the streets and jump over them. The young shoot lots of fireworks before and during Charshanbeh Soori. In older Iranic dialects such as Pashto (Pashtoons also celebrate this annual event and call it "Sheshbieh"), "soor" means the color "red". Based on Zoroastrian tradition the number of bonfires at any one place should be three representing the three holy values including: Good thoughts, Good words, and Good deeds. A bonfire can also be made in a single spot and this would symbolize unity and solidarity of Ahura. 


The tradition includes people going into the streets and alleys to make fires, and jump over them while singing the traditional song Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to. The literal translation is, Your fiery red color is mine, and my sickly yellow paleness is yours. Much of the symbolism of this act links to astrological connotations associated with sign of Pisces or Esfand; the human has to face his ultimate fears and does so by jumping over the fire, a cleansing act necessary before the advent of the Spring at the Vernal Equinox. This is a purification rite and 'soori' itself means redness which hints at the color of fire. Loosely translated, this means you want the fire to take your paleness, sickness, and problems and in turn give you redness, warmth, and energy. In addition another tradition of this day is to make a special mixed nuts and berries known as problem solving nuts. Another routine of the Charshanbeh Soori is the Iranian version of trick or treating associated with the Western Halloween night. Flocks of often young trick or treaters, hidden under a traditional chador go from door to door banging a spoon against a metal bowl asking for treats or money. Receiving of the mixed nuts is customary, as is receiving a bucket of water. 


Wishes are made and in order to make them come true, it is customary to prepare special foods and distribute them on this night. Noodle soup called Ash’e Charshanbeh Soori is prepared and is consumed communally. People passing by are served with nuts and dried fruits. This treat is called Ajeel’e Chaharshanbeh Soori and is a mixture of seven dried nuts and fruits, pistachios, roasted chic peas, almond, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins. Local variations apply and the mixture is different according to the location and the group celebrating it. 

People who have made wishes will stand at the corner of an intersection, or hide behind walls to listen to conversation by anybody passing by. If there is anything positive and optimistic in the conversation, the belief is that the wish will come true or there is good fortune to be expected. This is called Fal-Goosh meaning listening for one’s fortune. The night will end with more fireworks, feasts where family and friends meet and more modern Iranians music and dance will follow. There are other traditions also associated with this night. One of such traditions is the breaking of earthen jars, symbolically holding one's bad fortune. The ritual of making a knot in the corner of a handkerchief or garment and asking the first passerby to unravel it was a symbolic way to remove one’s misfortunes. Another currently seldom practiced ritual was for the youth to tie a number of multi colored scarves together. They would then proceed to climb the roof of their neighbors and lower the extended scarf through the chimney and with a few coughs inform the landlord of their presence. The landlord would then place a treat in the scarf, tie it in securely and give it a few gentle tugs so the youth could retrieve their scarf and the treat. In addition to the actual treat, this ritual also played the role of fortune telling. If the treat was candy it would foretell happiness. If it were a pomegranate, it foretold many future children. Nuts indicated patience and resistance when dealing with problems while raisins were a sign ample rainfall in the upcoming year. A silver coin would predict wealth. 


This celebration, in particular the significant role of fire, is likely to hail from Zoroastrianism. Iranians celebrated the last 10 days of the year in their annual obligation feast of all souls, Hamaspathmaedaya (Farvardigan or popularly Forodigan). They believed Farvahar, the guardian angels for humans and also the spirits of dead would come back for reunion. These spirits were entertained as honored guests in their old homes, and were bidden a formal ritual farewell at the dawn of the New Year. The ten-day festival also coincided with festivals celebrating the creation of fire and humans. Thus Iranians used to light fire on the roof by burning belongings of the deceased family members attracting and persuading their soul to come back and stay with them for a night. Spring housecleaning was carried out and bon fires were set up on the rooftops to welcome the return of the departed souls. Food and wine were put aside for the spirits. Small clay figurines in shape of humans and animals symbolizing all departed relatives and animals were also placed on the rooftops. Zoroastrians today still follow this tradition with clay figurines if possible. Flames were burnt all night to ensure the returning spirits were protected from the forces of darkness. 


Unfortunately out of all the traditional rituals of this festival, little has remained. All that is done these days to celebrate Charshanbeh Soori is to lit bonfires and jump over fire while most have little knowledge, if any, of the story behind this day’s celebration. 


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  2. Thank you for writing this :)
    It's good for me to learn more about our history