I have been meaning to write a series of posts about what it means to be Iranian in the twenty first century, because I feel most people are not aware of what a dynamic, vibrant, and beautiful culture we Iranians have to offer the world. Unfortunately, with the state of the world these days, Iran is often portrayed as a backwards Islamic State hell bent on pursuing nuclear power. However, Persian culture dates back to the beginnings of civilization, and if you ask any Iranian they will talk your ear off about what it means to be Persian.
Many people ask- what is the difference between Iran and Persia? The simplest difference is that Iran is the name of the modern state, but Persia was the name of a much larger area that made up the Persian Empire from the European periphery to what is modern day Afghanistan. Contrary to what many people think the Persians are not Arabs. We have our own language called Farsi, our own music, poetry, food, and distinct look. We are the people of the Iranian plateau, ironically with roots to the true Aryan race. Many say that Reza Shah actually named Persia, Iran, to appease Hilter during WWII. Many Iranians today, who do not like to be associated with the Islamic State, will say they are Persian rather than Iranian. Which is ironic, because I am not even sure what the word for Persian is in Farsi. Most Iranians will say that they are Iranee when you talk to them in Farsi.
These cultural traits that we Iranians carry with us to help build our identities carry with them a certain sadness. Iranians by nature are a brooding, passionate people. There is a certain level of pride that the Iranian diaspora carry with us no matter where we go in the world; it must have something to do with being exiled from over two thousand years of our culture. It is hard to sit back and watch the world perceive our nation as one of only fanatics and terrorists, or to sit quietly by as Hollywood tries to depict the Persians as animals and monsters in the film 300. The fact that Orientalism is back in fashion is disturbing enough, but especially since the very people who are depicted were actually followers of Zoroastriaism, whose basic precepts are as follows:
- Equalism: Equality of all, irrespective of gender, race, or religion. Respect and kindness towards all living things. Condemnation of the oppression of human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals.
- Environmentalism: Nature is central to the practice of Zoroastrianism and many important Zoroastrian annual festivals are in celebration of nature: new year on the first day of spring, the water festival in summer, the autumn festival at the end of the season, and the mid-winter fire festival.
- Hard work and charity: Laziness and sloth are frowned upon. Zoroastrians are encouraged to part with a little of what would otherwise be their own. Loyalty and faithfulness to "family, settlement, tribe, and country."
I hope to write more in depth on these theme in the coming future, but this post was meant to discuss the Persian New Year. This holiday also called No Rooze, which means new day has nothing to do with Islam, yet is the most widely celebrated holiday in Iran today. It has irked many of the Mullahs since the revolution, because come every March, Iranians across the country take off work for nearly two weeks and celebrate. They picnic in the streets; they eat, and they spend time with their families:
The Iranian New Year Celebration always begins on the first day of spring. Nowruz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts - the End and the Rebirth; or Good and Evil. A few weeks before the New Year, Iranians clean and rearrange their homes. They make new clothes, bake pastries and germinate seeds as sign of renewal. The ceremonial cloth is set up in each household. Troubadours, referred to as Haji Firuz, disguise themselves with makeup and wear brightly colored outfits of satin. These Haji Firuz, singing and dancing, parade as a carnival through the streets with tambourines, kettle drums, and trumpets to spread good cheer and the news of the coming new year.This selection was found here. Click on the link for more information. Please follow up on the links I have provided.
The origins of NoRuz are unknown, but they go back several thousand years predating the Achaemenian Dynasty. The ancient Iranians had a festival called "Farvardgan" which lasted ten days, and took place at the end of the solar year. It appears that this was a festival of sorrow and mourning, signifying the end of life while the festival of NoRuz, at the beginning of spring signified rebirth, and was a time of great joy and celebration.
Below are a few pictures from my last trip to Iran a few years ago. Click here to see many more photos on Flickr1