Chaharshanbe Suri is one of the Iranian festivals that is held from the evening of the last Tuesday of Esfand (Last month of Iranian calendar) until midnight. The main feature of this festival is lighting and jumping over the fire. This celebration is the first of a series of Nowruz celebrations and occasions that are held collectively in the open air by lighting fires and some other symbolic behaviors. This celebration is one of the most important celebrations in Iran that is ritually held every year.
Iranians celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri with various rituals and celebrations throughout their cultural region. Although they are different from each other, but they have many similarities. The most important of these rituals is lighting fires; but at other times and in other places, other rituals such as breaking pots, divination and fortune-telling are also common.
The main feature of Chaharshanbe Suri greeting is lighting a fire and jumping on it on the last Wednesday of the solar year. One or two days before Chaharshanbe Suri, people go out of town to gather firewood, shrubs and etc. to light up Chaharshanbe Suri fire. The fuel for Chaharshanbe Suri fire is sometimes supplied from agricultural wastes in the same area (for example, in the palm leaf grove in southern cities of Iran or in Gilan, rice stalks).
The site of the fire is the rooftop, the backyard, the village square or the city streets. People arrange the fire piles in odd numbers and at a distance of several meters. Then they light the fire at or after sunset; and it’s the time Chaharshanbe Suri begins! Men, women, and children jump over the fire and sing, “Your redness is from me, my yellowness is from you” (or, in some cities, a local poems with a similar theme).
They light the fire after the Chaharshanbe Suri ceremony to extinguish it by themselves or extinguish it with water. If the ceremony takes place in the courtyard, a family member, usually a little girl, picks up the ashes of the fire and takes them to a crossroads where the ashes are piled up. On the way home, there is a knock at the door and the occupants ask, “Who is it?” The girl answers: “It’s me!” And when they ask: “Where are you coming from?” and the answer will be: “From a wedding.” Then they open the door to her.
Before 1300 (1921), men shoot guns in the air on this night. But from this year onwards, when the government banned firearms, firecrackers became common.
Some believe that this poem will protect them from disease and jaundice next year; because they are giving their yellowness to the Chaharshanbe Suri fire on the last Wednesday of the year and getting the freshness and redness are the fire. In the villages of Khorasan, when jumping from the fire, they shout: “Ala be dar blah be dar, dozdkhiza az daha be dar”. This poem translates as: “Sadness and calamities be away from us, Wish that thieves be away from villages.” They sing this poem with the intention of being safe from evil, calamity and thieves.
One method of fortune-telling on Chaharshanbe Suri is divination with Bologna. Bologna is a small open-mouth jar that was used in ancient times to store pickles, spices and jams. Divination with Bologna has been a form of entertainment. To do this, young people come together and each, blindfolded, throws an object or a sign of themselves into a Bologna. They also write different poems on paper and put them in Bologna. Then the little girl puts her hand on the bologna and takes out a poem and reads it. After that, she takes out an object from it which shows that the poem read was the omen of the owner of that object. In Isfahan, they set up a small mirror and a sergeant in Bologna; and instead of writing poems, they get divination from Hafez’s (One of the most respected Iranian poets) divan.
Another type of divination on this day is “Fall Gush”. In this kind of divination, young girls make intentions, stand behind a wall and listen to the words of passers-by; and then interpret their words to get the answer to their intentions. Saeed Nafisi reports that in his time another type of divination was common in Zanjan, in which young people insert a rope through a chimney into the house of others so that the owner of the house could tie the first thing they could find. The object that was tied to the rope was interpreted as their omen; For example, if it was sweet, it was considered a sign of sweetness.
Ghashoghzani is one of the Iranian traditions that was performed on the last Wednesday night of the year (Chaharshanbe Suri greeting). The end result was Ghashoghzai (spooning), cooking and distributing Abu Darda aush (one of the foods that some people eat on Chaharshanbe Suri). Ghashoghzani is officially public. Men and women wore chadors and sometimes wore masks to hide their identities. Then they would beat with a spoon on a bowl or a pot or on the door of the house (the act of ghashoghzani or what we translated in the article as spooning). By doing this action they were informing the people of the house that they were coming.
The family took the empty bowl and poured a handful of dry food such as beans into it and returned it to the owner in order to help them cooking their Chaharshanbe Suri food. And sometimes they paid cash to the woman’s spoon instead of food. The most important condition in spooning was to remain anonymous; therefore, neither the spoon nor the landlord spoke during the confrontation.
The pearl ball was a ceremony for the people of Tehran. In Arg Square of Tehran, there was an old ball that had remained there for a hundred years. On Chaharshanbe Suri nights, women and girls would climb on the ball and sit on it or pass under it. After this, they believed that they are going to be married!
In most Iranian cities, they start breaking pots after jumping over a fire. Probably the root of this ritual is the old superstition that the pot will absorb the evil and by breaking it they are actually breaking the evil. This tradition is performed in different cities with slight differences.
In Tehran, people place one or more coins in the pot, and then throw it from the roof. In Khorasan, in addition to coins, they also add some coal and salt to the coins; and before throwing the jar, they turn it around their head. In this area, they also song a local poem when breaking the pot. In Arak and Ashtian, barley seeds are poured into jars. And in the east and southeast of Iran, they use old pottery to break instead of new ones.
This tradition probably also relied on a hygienic principle; because the ancient Iranians believed that they should not keep pottery at home for more than a year. Because the pottery is not washable or doesn’t have a glaze on it; so if they used for a year, it is they’ll be unsanitary. So they must break them and throw them away.
Shawl Andazi is another Chaharshanbe Suri ritual that was very common in the past. But now it’s just valid in some villages and cities such as Hamadan and Zanjan. During this ritual, young people tied several silk handkerchiefs together and made a long colored rope from it. Then they brought it through the chimneys of the houses or through the wall, and held one end of it on the roof. Then, with a few loud coughs, they inform the landlord of their arrival.
Landlords, as soon as they see the colored rope, throw what they have already prepared in the corner of the shawl and tie a knot on it; then, with a gentle shake, they informed the shawl owner that the Chaharshanbe Suri gift is ready. Then the shawl owner lifts the shawl. What is in the shawl is both a Chaharshanbe Suri gift and a divination. If it is a gift of bread, it is a sign of blessing; if sweets, it is a sign of sweetness and happiness. Pomegranate is a sign of many children in the future; and walnuts are a sign of longevity. If the shawl owner receives silver, it is a sign of happiness and in some places it has been a kind of indirect proposing; in this ceremony, they answered to a boy who wanted to marry a girl in this way.
In describing the Chaharshanbe Suri rituals, Saeed Nafisi refers to “Ajil Moshkel Gosha”. Moshkel Gosha is actually a combination of some nuts that someone vows to give to a bunch of people, with intention of problem solving. Of course, Nafisi does not consider it one of the special rituals of Chaharshanbe Suri; but those who believe in it also perform this vow on Chaharshanbe Suri geeting. In Kurdistan, roasting and eating wheat, sesame, chickpeas and lentils is also common. On Chaharshanbe Suri, Khorasanis cook a food called “Chaharrang-e-Ploo” which consists of noodles, lentils, barberry and mung bean. In some cities it it also common to have “Reshteh-Polo” (a combination of rice, noodles and meat) too.
We mentioned that people vow to give nuts to others (mostly poor people). But they also believed that eating these nuts on this night is ominous and causes good fortune. Preparing and eating salty and sweet nuts is one of the delicious parts of Chaharshanbe Suri. These nuts, in addition to the main ingredients of what Iranians call salted nuts (a combination of pistachio, almonds, cashews and hazelnut), has peach and apricot leaves, green raisins, basloq and walnut kernels.
Families sit together and talk warmly while eating nuts and have fun. In the past, it was a tradition that people distribute the leftover nuts among poor families so that they would not be wasted and they also an have the opportunity of having fun.
In ancient times, it was a tradition for a family that had a problem or a sick member to make a meal called “sick aush” (Aush cooked for a sick person); and give it as a vow to another needy people, thus seeking to cure the illness of their member or in the intention of solving their problem. We can consider this aush as one of Chaharshanbe Suri foods; and in principle, they gave some of it to the family member who was sick and then, they distributed the rest among the poor. Today, however, there is no news of this tradition, but you may see people preparing it in some small cities of Iran. Or even in some parts of Iran they serve their local aush as a food of Chaharshanbe Suri (instead of reshteh-polo and etc.).
Regarding the word “Suri” in the composition of the name of the Soori celebration / Chaharshanbe Suri/Chaharshanbe Suri greeting, there are two views:
Some have taken “Suri” in the meaning of celebration, joy, cheerfulness and liveliness. And the other opinion is that “Suri” means red. ?Because they lit fire and it’s red; and the word “Sur” in Pahlavi language means red. This celebration has also other names in different cities of Iran. The local names are:
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