Iranian festivals and religious events

There are many cultural and religious festivals celebrated in Iran throughout the year and it's a great time to visit Iran to experience an insight to the local's daily lives.

Nowruz - or (New Day) marks the beginning of the New Year not just for Iranians but for many other countries around the world including Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Iraqi Kurdistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Normally Nowruz starts on the 21st March (start of spring in the Iranian calendar) but many Iranians prepare for this huge event well in advance buying new clothes, spring cleaning their homes and buying various items for their New Year tables of Haft-Sin table.

The Haft-Sin table has seven symbolic items on the table beginning with the letter S:

Sabze (سبزه) - wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish (represents nature).
Samanu (سمنو) - sweet pudding made from wheat germ (represents power and bravery).
Senjed (سنجد) - dried Persian olive (represents wisdom).
Serke (سرکه) - vinegar (represents contentment).
Sib (سیب) - apple (represents beauty).
Sir (سیر) - garlic (represents good health).
Somāq (سماق) - sumac (represents patience).

As well as the above, other things added to the table are the Quran, mirror, goldfish and painted eggs. A lot of Iranians go all out with their tables.

Nowruz lasts for 13 days and during this time families and friends go outside for picnics as many Iranians believe it is bad luck to stay indoors during this time.

If you are planning to visit Iran during Nowruz please be aware it's a very busy time of the year and you may need to apply for your visa (if not on arrival) further in advance. The hotels are also busy as well as touristic sites so book well in advance and get there early respectively.

Chaharshanbe Suri - known as the festival of fire is celebrated on the last Tuesday evening before Nowruz and also known as (Red Wednesday). It is a fire-jumping festival celebrated by many people around the world. Fireworks and bonfires light up the sky and it's tradition to jump over small fires whilst saying 'give me your red colour and take back your yellow colour' as this is believed to be a purification ritual dating back to the Zoroastrian religion.

Yalda - Shab-e-Chelle (Night of Forty). This is the winter solstice and is on the longest and darkest night of the year. It's the last day of autumn, and welcomes the arrival of winter. It is seen as a victory of light over darkness and renewal of the sun which dates back to the ancient Zoroastrian religion when Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra (The Goddess of Light).
Families gather together ,and place fruit including pomegranates, watermelon and nuts on a table and recite poetry until the early hours of the morning.

Ashura - This solemn event marks the day the Prophet Muhammed's grandson (Imam Hussain - Peace Be Upon Him) was martyred on the plains of Karbala along with his family and companions. Iranians have processions and have gatherings to pay their respects and remember this tragic event. There are huge gatherings all around Iran especially at the Imam Reza Shrine.

Tasua - This is on the eve of Ashura and there are again huge gatherings to mark the sad event of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Drums are beaten whilst people beat their chests due to their love of their Imam. There are also food offerings given out to the poor.

Saffron Harvest - Held in autumn, this event is when saffron is harvested. Saffron is known as red gold around the world and is used in a lot of Persian cuisine. The quality is one of the highest you will find anywhere in the world.

Rosewater Festival - Every year towards the end of May a Rosewater Festival is held in Kashan. Huge amounts of roses are collected and put in to copper pots, water is added, and vapours collected to make beautiful scented rosewater. The flower used is not only for rosewater but is used in food and medicines too.