By Jaime Leon
Tehran, Mar 20 (EFE).- Every year with the arrival of spring, Iranians joyfully celebrate Nowruz, known as the Persian New Year, despite the 1979 Iranian Revolution’s attempts to abolish the thousands-year-old pagan festival.
Singers dress in red, paint their faces black and hold tambourines and colored eggs to symbolize fertility before taking to the streets of Tehran to mark the beginning of spring.
In the Tajrish Bazaar, northern Tehran, thousands of people make last-minute purchases in the crowded alleyways of the market, oblivious to the coronavirus pandemic that canceled celebrations for the past two years.
Nowruz, which has its roots in Zoroastrianism and dates back over 3,000 years, is usually celebrated on the first day of the Spring Equinox.
After the Islamic Revolution, the ayatollahs tried to eliminate the tradition, considering it an anti-Islamic pagan festival.
“I ask all of those who have rituals for what they call Nowruz to tone it down this year,” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and leader of the Iranian Revolution, said in a speech in 1981.
But the leader’s call was in vain.
Iran is a Muslim-majority country and Zoroastrians make up a tiny part of its population, but the holiday lives on and is perhaps Iran’s most important celebration of the year.
“They told us not to celebrate it, that we had Eid al-Fitr (marks the end of Ramadan) or the prophet’s birthday, which are Muslim holidays,” a Tehran resident tells Efe.
“But Nowruz is an important holiday for us, a very old tradition. We continue to celebrate it,” he says.
British-Iranian writer Ramita Navai says that Nowruz and everything related to it is as culturally important to Iranians as Muslim holidays.
It is a pagan memory of Zoroastrianism and the regime declared it anti-Islamic, the British-Iranian journalist continues in her book City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran.
Historian Ervand Abrahamian says that for Iran’s clerical regime any sign of respect for pre-Islamic Iran amounts to paganism.
After the failed attempt to eradicate the holiday, the theocratic regime accepted the celebration.
Many political and religious leaders take advantage of this occasion, which usually comes on March 20 or 21, to address the population with speeches.
The festival begins with the lighting of bonfires and jumping over them, a practice that was practically prohibited for years.
Then families gather around seven foods that stand for a wish, health, wealth and love.
In addition, a mirror is placed on the table to symbolize reflection, with colored eggs and goldfish, which represent life.
Nowruz, inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010, is celebrated by more than 300 million people in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East.