Frowned Upon in Homeland, Iranians Celebrate Ancient Holiday at La Plaza Cultural

woman_jumpsSasha Von Oldershausen Women and children hopped over the symbolic fires on Tuesday night.

Iranians from as far away as Houston, Texas crowded into La Plaza Cultural Community Garden on Tuesday night to observe a holiday that celebrates Iran’s pre-Islamic past.

“Chahārshanbe-Sūri,” or, “Red Wednesday,” is rooted in Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. The holiday, which precedes the Persian New Year, occurs on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Zoroastrian calendar. Since the 2009 elections, the Iranian government has tried to dissuade residents from celebrating the holiday considered un-Islamic, though many continue to celebrate it throughout the country.

Children and adults alike hopped over bonfires lit at sunset to symbolize the passage of the old year.

Simin Farkhondeh, the event organizer, felt a particular pleasure in the gathering. “It’s a celebration of resistance,” she said.

Ms. Farkhondeh has coordinated the event at La Plaza for the past three years. She said the celebration was a way for her to reminisce about the holiday with fellow Iranians, and to share a lesser-known cultural tradition with the community.

“Since I left Iran, I felt a need to do this,” Ms. Farkhondeh said. “I wanted to share something really beautiful.”

She recalled taking the traditional leap over the fire as a child in Iran. “I remember how much energy and freedom it gave me,” she said. “I wanted that to happen for my child.”

DSC_0021Sasha Von Oldershausen A tree stump decorated with fruit, herbs, and flowers to symbolize the advent of spring and the Persian New Year.

Apparently many shared her enthusiasm. Ms. Farkhondeh had only told around 30 of her friends about the gathering, and yet nearly 500 revelers showed up. “Every year it’s like this. People tell each other,” she said. “It’s a testament to how much Iranians hunger for this event.”

While kids hopped over the three tiny bonfires arranged in a circle near the entrance of the park — as per Parks Department regulations — others snacked on ajeel, a mixture of dried fruit and nuts traditionally served on the holiday.

Ayat Khazaeli brought her two daughters from New Jersey to La Plaza. “I need to expose them to this tradition,” she said, later adding, “I love it because it is not a religious celebration. It is a very unique event that celebrates new beginnings. Everything is fresh and new.”