The last category of events to be discussed here can well be described as national holidays for several reasons. They are deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the country, unlike the civil holidays tied to recent political events of transitory significance. Although they reflect traces of ancient cults of sun worship and were (and are) part of Zoroastrian tradition, they have become essentially secularized and are no longer tied to any particular religion. At the same time, they have been accepted by essentially all ethnic groups, not just Persian speakers, and are enthusiastically celebrated not only all over the country but also in many neighboring countries. They include four important occasions: Chahârshanbehsuri , the last Wednesday of the solar year; Nowruz, the New Year’s Day; Sizdah Bedar, the 13th day of the year; and Yaldâ, the night of the winter solstice. On the evening before Chahârshanbehsuri (colloquially pronounced Chârshambeh-suri), people gather whatever type of kindling is common in their locality and make bonfi res in their yards, the streets, or the open country. Whoever wishes and is able—men, women, children—jump over the fl ames while singing, “Your redness to me, my pallor to you”; the ritual is intended to ensure good health and fortune for the coming year. Traditionally, there are various rules that apply to how the fire is tended and how the ashes are dealt with subsequently (reminders, perhaps, of the sacredness of fire in Zoroastrianism). Many other supplementary or local customs are practiced in connection with the holiday. The most common include setting off fi reworks; “banging spoons” ( qâshoq-zani ), when young people go door-to -door banging a spoon on a plate and receiving little gifts, in some ways similar to Halloween door-to-door visits; social gatherings where people stay up most of the night snacking on fruits and nuts and burning rue seeds to ward off misfortune; making a special dish known as the soup of Abu Dardâ to give to people who have been chronically ill; and smashing an old pot or jug after jumping over the fi re (another omen of good luck, as is the general practice of spring cleaning and refurbishing the house that follows the holiday). Despite, or perhaps because, of its popularity, conservative Muslim religious leaders view this holiday, and indeed most of the others in this category, with a good deal of suspicion as non-Islamic and pagan in character and have occasionally tried to suppress or constrain it, but without much success. It can be a particularly sensitive issue when the holiday falls at the same time as Moharram, as happened recently. Nowruz is one of the most celebrated and important Iranian holidays. It is observed not only in Iran but also in Azerbaijan, central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India, and among the Kurds. Officially, the New Year’s holiday lasts for four days, from Nowruz itself on 1 Farvardin to 4 Farvardin. Unoffi cially, the holiday season typically lasts much longer; it is the most popular time by far for people to take trips and vacations, given that schools close longer than government offi ces. It is also an important time for renewing social relationships and putting household and financial matters in order. People clean up their houses (like spring cleaning in the United States), buy new clothing and furniture, and often hope for a new beginning. New Year’s resolutions are as common in Iran as in the United States. People may begin celebrating 10 days or so before Nowruz and continue until the Sizdah Bedar holiday on the 13th day of the year. Children, employees, and various acquaintances also expect to receive a cash gift, ‘idi, for the New Year. Nowruz is a very joyous time, with lots of special foods, visits to friends and relatives, performances by street entertainers, and so forth. The central event of the Nowruz holiday, however, is the laying out of the sofreh, a special holiday tableau, on New Year’s Eve. Iranians take great pride in the preparation of the sofreh, a practice that is rich in tradition, meaning, and symbolism. By custom, this consists of an especially attractive dining cloth spread out on the fl oor (or in more recent, somewhat Westernized usage, a table) and decorated with the haft sin, seven objects whose names in Persian all begin with the letter s . There is some variation in the choice of the haft sin, and there may in fact be more than seven s objects on display. They will almost certainly include sprouted seeds of grain ( sabzeh ), samanu (a kind of paste made out of minced green wheat, oil, almonds and other ingredients), apples ( sib ), vinegar ( serkeh ), garlic ( sir ), and coins ( sekkeh ). Seeds of wild rue ( sepand ) may be placed in a dish and burned (something commonly thought to ensure good luck). Hyacinth ( sonbol ), fennel-fl ower ( siâh-dâneh ), sumac ( somâq ), jujubes ( senjed ), green herbs ( sabzi ), or other items might also be used, either as part of the haft sin or the overall display. The sofreh should include a mirror; lighted candles, which should not be extinguished before they have burned out; a Koran or other sacred or valued book (non-Muslims or the secular-minded might use the Shâh-nâmeh or a book of poems by Hâfez or Rumi); coins; fi sh (usually a goldfi sh in a bowl); a bowl of water with a pomegranate leaf or bitter orange fl oating in it; pitchers of milk, rose water, and so forth; and foods such as yogurt, cheese, bread, and other delicacies. There will also be a number of colored eggs, specially cooked and dyed for the purpose: This is probably the most ancient custom incorporated into the sofreh (as well as one distantly related to the custom of Easter eggs in Christianity). The egg, like the leaf in the bowl, is a symbol of the universe; most of the objects on the sofreh are meant to represent the earth and its place in the cosmos, the particular auspiciousness of the moment of the vernal equinox, charms for good fortune and the warding off of evil, the forces of rebirth and regeneration, and the good things of life one hopes to enjoy over the coming year. Foods associated with the New Year have varied by region, period, and ethnicity. In recent times, in Tehran and many other cities in central Iran, eating sabzi – polow mâhi (herbed rice with fi sh) on the New Year has become customary. Another important feature of the New Year celebration is a character known as Hâji Firuz . Hâji Firuz is a man dressed in red clothes with his face colored in black. A couple of weeks prior to New Year, Hâji Firuz comes along with tambourines, kettle drums, or trumpets, dancing and singing in the streets and cheering people, especially kids, in preparation for New Year. His songs are comical, and his performance very theatrical, causing laughter and cheer. The transition from the New Year’s celebrations to regular life is marked by the observance of Sizdah Bedar (13 Farvardin/April 2; offi cial calendars have recently taken to referring to this as Nature Day). The idea is that 13 is an unlucky number, and any quarrels or problems on that day portend misfortune for the whole year. Everyone should thus try to ward off the bad luck by having as good a time as possible, traditionally by spending the day outdoors on a picnic in a park or open area (always a popular activity with most Iranians). Traditional foods for the occasion vary in different regions and among various ethnic groups. However, many consume a noodle soup and lettuce leaves soaked in a homemade syrup called sekanjebin (a mixture of sugar and vinegar). It is also customary to dispose of the sprouts used for the sofreh on this day, the last formality of the New Year’s celebrations. The task is often assigned to young unmarried girls; in a more general practice suggestive of the fertility aspects of the New Year’s celebrations, they may also tie together blades of grass and throw the bundles in running water while singing, “Sizdah Bedar! Another year! Husband’s home! Baby on the lap!” (expressing their wish for marriage and children soon). Yaldâ, like Chahârshanbehsuri , is not an official holiday but is nonetheless observed quite widely among Iranians. In Zoroastrian tradition, the winter solstice, with the longest night of the year, was a particularly inauspicious day, and the practices of Yaldâ reflect customs intended to protect people from any evil occurrence at that time. One should stay up most or all of the night and keep a fi re burning in the fi replace if possible. Having small parties or social gatherings to eat, talk, and tell stories (or dance and listen to music if one is not of a conservative bent) is a common way of passing the time. Traditional practice was also to eat the last available fresh (as opposed to dried) fruits of the year for Yaldâ; today, fresh fruit is of course available throughout the year but is still used for Yaldâ. Grocers will often have spectacular displays of a variety of fresh fruits for people to buy for this occasion, especially watermelon, which has become associated with this night. Consuming âjil, exchanging jokes, and playing games are common activities of the night.