USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘persian’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Initiations
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eating Almonds at Persian Weddings

Description

“Whenever someone gets married, it’s a tradition to eat almonds at the wedding so that the wife becomes fertile. I first saw this at the first Persian wedding that I went to when I was, like, eight years old. They put little bags of almonds underneath every single guest’s seat during the ceremony. At the end, when they marry each other, all the guests take out the almonds and eat them. Obviously, I was confused when it first happened, and my mom said, ‘Oh, you do this so the wife becomes pregnant.”

Context

I was with friends when the informant offered this piece of information. We had been talking about how people our age (early 20s) are getting married very quickly, which then devolved into a conversation about weddings, both traditional and not. The informant learned about this custom, as outlined in the description, through weddings she celebrated with her own family, and she learned through observation.

Analysis

I think small details like these within larger events or celebrations are very interesting. In high school, I learned a lot about fertility charms, such as the fertility goddesses made of stone. The act of eating almonds raises a lot of questions for me, questions aimed at wanting to know why almonds, why eat them, etc. I’ve not been to many weddings, but my first thought when I encountered this ideal was — what happens if someone is allergic to nuts?

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

A Cat Giving Birth

Description

“They say that when the sun is out and it’s raining, a cat is giving birth. My mother would say it all the time, but I remember one time we were in the car and we were driving, I was a toddler. It’s raining and it’s sunny, and she would say, ‘Oh look, a cat is giving birth right now.’ I asked her, ‘How do you know, mom?’ and she was just, ‘It’s just true.’”

Context

This conversation came when I was discussing the rain back where I am from, and this informant as well as another discussed their beliefs surrounding rain while the sun shines. The informant heard it first from their mother, when they were in the car and driving, as outlined in the description.

Analysis

I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.

 

Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Persian Sleeping Beauty

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Dad: Iranians believe that if something is predicted, it will happen.  There was a king, and he had a son.  Somebody came, and told him that that boy… It’s the same thing as Disney, the same concept, do you remember…

Me: Sleeping Beauty?

Dad: Yes, with the spinning wheels.  In our story, the king had a son, his only son, and a magician told him that his son would be bitten by a scorpion and would die.  The king told all his people to kill all the scorpions and took his son to an island where there were no scorpions.  He was guarded by many servants, and when the son was older, he was sitting by the beach with one of his servants, and he asked the servant,

“Why did my dad do all of this for me?”

The servant told him what happened.  And the son said,

“But I’ve never even seen a scorpion.  What does it look like?”

The servant drew the picture of a scorpion in the sand, and it came to life.  The scorpion then stung the son and killed him.

 

Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran.  He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English.  He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime.  My dad was telling me about different Iranian folktales, since my dad was originally born and raised in Iran.  We were originally talking about superstitions, and he decided to tell me this story.  The moral of the story, he said, was that “if it has to be, it will be”, and that we could not escape our fate.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I thought this story was particularly interesting, because it had the same basic plot as Sleeping Beauty.  Since I grew up with Disney, and know the story of Sleeping Beauty well, my dad did not even need to get very far into the story before I made the immediate connection between the two.  I thought it was funny how my dad, before even really starting the story, asked me if I could already see the connection between his story and Sleeping Beauty.  Being from Iran, he is not as familiar with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and he knows many of his European fairy tales through Disney movies that he watched with me and my brother as we were growing up.  My dad had never told me this Persian tale before this moment, and so I was unaware that there was an Iranian equivalent to the Sleeping beauty story in their culture.

 

For another version of this tale, please see Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Little Briar-Rose (1857), which can be found here

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Muslim Traveling Superstition

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Mom: Before dad and I went on our honeymoon to Madrid, dad’s mom held up the Quran, and so did his grandmother, and we actually had to walk underneath the Quran to prevent anything evil from happening to us in our travels.

Me: It wasn’t just for the plane; it was for all of your travels?

Mom: Well, they didn’t state it, but I felt it was like their way of confirming that our trip would be as safe as possible.

 

Context: The informant, my mother, is a pharmacy administrator living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She was originally born in New York but moved to New Mexico with her family at a young age.  Her father, a playwright and artist, was invested in his Native American heritage.  From her travels around New Mexico, moving from place to place when she was young, and also hearing stories from her father and my father, who is from Iran, she has gathered a variety of folktales.  My dad is originally from Iran, and all his family members are also from Iran, so my mom and I were talking about Iranian superstition and folklore that my mom has experienced while being married to him.  Since my grandmother is heavily Muslim, and is a very superstitious woman, my mom has learned about most Iranian superstitions through her.

 

 

My Thoughts: This is interesting because it is my mom’s, who is American, viewpoint on Iranian superstition.  Even though my grandma and my great-grandma did not explain to my mom why they wanted them to walk under the Quran before their travels, my mom was able to guess the purpose of it.  Although different cultures have their own superstitions, I feel like many feelings of superstition and fear are universal.  This superstition made me think about how different individuals express different feelings of things such as fear, excitement, and happiness.  People in America might say, “Have a safe flight!” or “Safe travels!” before a major trip such as a honeymoon; however my Iranian family wanted my parents to walk underneath a Quran to express this sentiment.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Persian Flattery Superstition

Main Story (direct transcription):

Dad: If someone says that you are something positive, such as being pretty, young, wealthy, or successful, superstitious Iranians make a fire.  In the fire, they have some kinds of herbs that smell like oud, or incense, and they have seeds in them.  They make the fire in a coil, it’s not like a huge fire, and they throw all these seeds into it.  Some of the seeds make a big “pop” noise, and it opens, and it looks like an eye shape.  They say,

“This is the evil eye!  This is the enemy!”

Me: So why do they start the fire in the first place…?

Dad: To contradict something.  Back home (in Iran), you cannot say how beautiful someone is, or if when you have a kid, you can’t say “such a big baby!”.  Like here, in America, you can say those things, but in Iran, if you say that, it’s like you’ve jinxed it.  I remember when my youngest brother was born, my great-great aunt came home, and she was very old.  He was a beautiful baby, but when she saw him, she spit on him.  She said,

“What an ugly baby!”

She didn’t want to jinx it, so she said he was ugly.  I was so offended when she said it!  It’s the “evil eye”.  Here, when I came to this country, people were saying things like, “what a big baby, how beautiful…” and I was so confused.  You don’t say things like that in Iran because you don’t want to jinx them.  Making the fire to contradict something positive that was said is too much work, so they don’t say positive things in the first place.

 

Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran.  He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English.  He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime.  My dad was telling me about different Iranian superstitions, since we were talking about how my grandma is a very superstitious woman.  I asked my dad if any particular superstitions popped out to him, or if any of them in particular were his favorite, and he proceeded to tell me this one.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I really liked this snippet about Iranian superstitions.  I didn’t know that it was negative to say something positive about someone, especially babies, in their culture.  Since my dad and his Iranian family in America have spent ample time here, I have heard them say positive things about others, and they are not as superstitious as their Iranian ancestors were.  I thought it was funny how my dad tied in this superstition to his own life, telling of how his great-great aunt actually spit on my uncle when he was a baby.  When my grandmother comes to visit next, I will be sure to listen and see if she says anything positive about anyone, especially about my youngest baby cousin on my dad’s side.  Now that I know this superstition, I think it will be fun to see how many people practice it, and how many don’t, and see whether or not there is a generational gap in those who do, and those who don’t.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year Tradition – Superstitions

Piece: 

“My community, the Persian community, so Persian new year is on the spring equinox which is the first day of spring, it’s supposed to symbolize the start of the new year, but just like a new beginning, everything is starting to bloom again, so one of the things they do for Persian new year is they obviously, everyone all of your friends and family, they set up this table called a Haft-sin, and it’s basically 7 things that starts with the letter s, so they have grass, and then the tuesday before new years, theres this thing called Chaharshanbe Suri, so this is based on the Zoroastrian religion, Zoroastrian it’s one of the oldest religions of the world, dates before like 10,000 years old, uhm and what they do is basically, everyone, your friends and family, set up logs in sequence usually 7 logs, and you like jump over the logs, and that’s supposed to symbolize the fire getting rid of all the bad stuff, the fire cleanses you.”

Background information: The informant is a USC student. He is of Persian descent. This tradition is embedded in his community so it carries substantial weight.

Context: This tradition is celebrated annually, unlike the American New Year, the Persian New Year is celebrated on the first day of spring.

Personal Analysis: The Persian New Year is something that Professor Thompson mentioned during one of the lectures. It was reviewed during the discussion of the spring Equinox. The Persian New Year is also called the “Iranian New Year”, and the celebration is called “Nowruz” The lecture proved to be accurate as the informant confirmed that 7 items are placed around the table called the “Haft Sin” I was shocked to hear that they partake in jumping over the fire in order to be cleansed. Most cultures associate fire with “hell” or “satan”, but in the informant’s culture the fire represents something positive.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping Fire: Persian New Year

The Folklore:

K: Would you like me to tell you about a Persian New Year tradition?

E: Yes, please do.

K: Every Persian New Year everyone  jumps over a burning fire. A contained fire of course.

E: Does everyone participate?

K: Older people and young children don’t. But those who aren’t sick and are able bodied all do it.

E: That is so interesting. Do you know where this tradition originated?

K: Early Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest belief systems, and they viewed fire as extremely holy. They began to hop the fire as a cleanse. The fire would wash away all bad luck, evil eyes, and sicknesses by leaving them in the year that was ending.

E: When did you first hear about this tradition?

K: My fathers first told me about this tradition during Persian new year when I was very young. Ever since then I’ve participated every year.

E: What does it mean to you? What sort of value does it hold with you?

A: It means a lot because it’s the main event during Persian New Year’s. This is one of the largest family celebrations of year where extended family and nuclear family are all together. Everyone experiences this together by leaving our non-positive energy in the past.

Context:

My informant is a long time friend of mine who is from Dominican and Iranian descent. Every year I’ve known him I’ve seen the annual videos of him and his family members jumping over the fire without having inquired. I reached out to him over the phone and this was what he told me.

Analysis:

Although strange I see this practice as deeply as symbolic. Zoroastrianism was one of the first belief systems and the fact that God has for us conceived so long ago are still prevalent today reflects how truly special it is as both for the Apple ones on sale to leave behind’s transgressions from the past year as well as enter the new year with family.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz: Persian New Year Celebrations

Main Piece

“Nowruz happens on the spring equinox, it’s the New Year so it’s celebrating new beginnings and whatnot. So then you set up a table called the halfsin table, and it has…I don’t know how many… and they all start with S in farsi. and it’s stuff like an apple, which represents…something. You spend time with family, jumping over this fire thing…people light a little fire and jump over it, from the old year to the new one.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Persian–American

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

When I asked the informant what the holiday means to them, they responded with the following:

“It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up in a super Iranian household, but this holiday was a way to connect with my Iranian heritage…I don’t speak Farsi or whatever but this is a way for me to connect with the heritage.”

Context

The informant has one Iranian parent and did not grow up in a strongly Iranian community. However, she still thinks very fondly of Nowruz and engages in celebrating it each year with her father, who is her Iranian parent, and her brother.

Notes

The formation of an individual’s identity is an intriguing process, and it is interesting that the informant feels an emotional bond to the holiday despite not having many other cultural ties to Iran. Regardless of identity, holidays such as Nowruz seem to bind families closer together.

 

Tales /märchen

Shirin and Farhad

The following informant is a 22-year-old Persian-American women from Southern California. In this account she is describing a tale her parents and family used to tell her when she was little. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: So, my name, um because it means sweet, there used to be this fairy tale in Iran, that basically every old person, in their entire life, and basically everyone has been told this story.

So basically, there was this princess and her name was Shirin, and there was a King and his name was Farhad. So basically, Shirin lived in this Castle… and… um… and she was just like this princess of like Persia. And he like… well… it’s kind of like a Rapunzel type of situation and basically Farhad came and like saved her and took her outside the castle and like gave her a new life. He was basically… he was just like her prince, but like she was the main focal point of the story as opposed to that guy. But like yeah, the story is not like too-in depth, it’s pretty short. It’s basically… just like… there is a prince and a princess and it’s like bada bing bada boom

S: But umm… yeah, my parents told me that, and basically most people who name their kids Shirin, or Shireen, will tell their children that story. It’s kind of like Rapunzel, because she is just like stuck in the castle and he like comes and saves her, but like the Persian version, haha.

K: Who is told this story?

S: Well like any Persian over the age of 45 knows it cause it’s like a children’s tale, but they always tell it to kids named Shirin

K: Do you like the story?

S: Well, yeah, because there was not a story, like growing up in America, the princesses were not named Shirin, so when I heard about a princess with my name and she was rescued by a knight in shining armor, I was like very there for it… because like yes… it was not Cinderella, aurora, or whatever the fuck and now there was finally a Shirin

K: What does it mean to you?

S: Um, I think when I was like a child, I thought that your name … actually no when I was a child I did not give a shit about that, I just thought it was so cool that I had a princess and other people didn’t. But as an adult it makes me feel better, that my name has meaning and history behind it.

Context:

The informant told this retelling while we were at a café by her school. The conversation was recorded and transcribed.

Thoughts:

First of all I love her retelling of the story, I thought it was great. But I also think that her not knowing the specifics of the story and only knowing the main ideas is okay because her take away from being told this story was that her name means something. It makes me think of the Oral-Formulaic Theory, how if she were to tell her child the story, she will probably keep the plot the same because that is what she knows, but the formulaic speech (little details) she could change up. In addition, which is what I find most interesting, is that she explained that this is a popular fairy tale, that is about a Persian princess, tell young Persian children. After doing some research, this story is actually based on a poem, which was based on a real event, of an Armenian princess named Shirin falling in love with the Kind of Persia. So, in the original story, the princess was not Persian, but to the informant its more about the name of the princess than her origins.

Here are two links to look at the original poetic version and historical version that inspired this tale. (These are not links to the absolute original version, as I don’t understand Farsi, I had difficulty procuring it):

https://www.peopleofar.com/2015/11/08/before-romeo-and-juliet-there-was-khosrow-and-shirin/

http://nazykaviani.blogspot.com/2007/08/story-of-khosrow-and-shirin-i.html

Customs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Wedding Custom

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. She has lots of extended family in the area that she grew up in, so her family often has family events that she attends, including bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings.

Context: Lauren was telling me about a pre-wedding party that she recently attended for her first cousin. I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below.

“So there’s two names for this wedding tradition. Goleh baleh* or shironim khanom**. Goleh means flower and baleh means yes. Shironim means sweet. It’s a party it’s one of the first parties that happens when a couple gets engaged. It’s thrown by the bride’s family. At this party there’s a table full of sweets, sterling silver, flowers and a crystal that’s called leelac. That chrystal is supposed to be very expensive. It’s basically bringing in the sweetness of course of a marriage and the combining of two families and it’s usually a very big party. It’s the first time the couple is there together. I learned this tradition from  my family because last April my cousin Natalie got exchanged and her parents threw a shironim khanom. I just remember the entire party there was just fresh pastries, crepes, flowers… people send hundreds of flowers. My aunt’s house, everywhere there was flowers it was just beautiful. Everywhere there were silver plates…just gorgeous. Since I’m so close to her I didn’t really get to enjoy the food because I was dancing the whole night. One thing that we do that I really love that we do at most of the parties is we get fresh flowers and there’s a song that is sung and during that song, during the chorus everyone throws the flowers up at the bride and the groom, and the bride and groom are supposed to kiss at that time. It was my first time really seeing all that happen and it was really pretty and magical. I don’t know the song of the song… I know the melody but I’m gonna botch the words. The flowers are normally light colored flowers, typically white roses. Always light colors, never a dark color. White or light pink. At my cousin’s shironim, there was some jewelry given to her like close family came early and jeweled her up I guess? She wore no jewelry at the beginning and before the party started each of the grandmas gave her a piece of jewelry and then her parent, and then the grooms side of the family. They put the jewelry on her and then she wears it for the party and the rest of the night. Usually it’s not during the party, it’s before, just for close family and friends because… I don’t know my dad doesn’t really like it, it’s not very humble. Usually it’s just close family and friends. She wears the jewelry for the rest of the night though. Jewelry is given to the bride and the groom, usually the parents of the bride and groom, the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and if there’s even more jewelry then cousins, first cousins. No specific type of jewelry, usually just anything. Persians have this thing where you give married people emeralds, and older women will wear emeralds to the party if they are close to the bride. My mom wore emeralds to this party and the wedding, like emerald necklaces, earrings, rings. The groom’s mom wore emeralds. Something that has emeralds in it- once you’re married you’re given a lot of emeralds for some reason.”

 

*goleh baleh

How it’s pronounced: goh-leh bah-leh

**shironim khanom

How it’s pronounced: sheer-oo-neem khah-nohm

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