Tag Archives: persian

Spring Cleaning and Shopping: A Nowruz Tradition

Background: The informant is a sophomore film student at USC. He learned the tradition from practicing it with his mother’s side of the family during his childhood in San Ramon, CA. His mother was born in the US to Iranian parents and moved back to Iran for a brief period of time before moving back to the US. It is worth noting that the informant prefers the term Persian rather than Iranian when discussing his cultural background.  

Context: The following is transcribed from an over-the-phone interview with the informant. The informant and I are well acquainted so the discussion was casual.

Piece:

Informant: “Nowruz begins on the spring equinox. I think usually it’s the first day of the month, there’s an Iranian month, Farvardin. But like it’s not only the beginning of spring it’s also the first day of this new month sort of how like January 1st is our new year. And so some of the ways that it’s celebrated..the big thing that I remember about it. I know there’s spring cleaning and there’s shopping. That’s actually, that’s literally a part of the culture. You clean the whole house and you go shopping.”

Collector: Do you shop for clothes or a specific item?

Informant: “It’s like everything. It’s sort of like… It’s like ‘out with the old, in with the new,’ you know. Which is kind of funny because it’s like super commercial but it’s also at the core of the holiday.”

Analysis: To me, deep cleaning and then shopping seems like an intuitive way to start anew, and yet it has never been a facet of my New Year’s tradition. Cleaning the entire house and then replacing old objects with new ones symbolizes rebirth, a new start, a new year. The holiday takes place in spring, a season associated with regeneration from winter and new life. By incorporating this tradition into the holiday, the participants regenerate from the past year and materially begin anew. I thought it was interesting that he noted the commercial aspect of the holiday as “funny,” indicating that he views holidays existing in a realm somewhat separate from consumerism despite most American holidays revolving around commercial products.

Persian-American Nowruz Fire Jumping

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).

CB “Okay, start by telling me why you participate in this event, what you call the event, and who  you participate with”

AM “I celebrate Persian new year every year because I am Perisan and both of my family members that I live with are also Persian. And they grew up in Iran. And because of that they grew up celebrating certain religions and certain customs throughout their lifetime.  So now they also allowed me to grow up in their roots and experience that Iranian culture that I wasn’t really able to experience because I live in the United States now.

“So one of the small events that I celebrate with my family is when we go to a park to celebrate Persian New Year., also known as Nawruz. At this park there are normally other Persians who agregate here and there’s various events that they do for customs, and one of them is that at night time they build a fire, a nice big fire, and they play Persian music and everyone sort of lines up and they take turns jumping over the fire. [laughs] Yeah, that’s one particular thing that occurs a lot

. . .

CB “Can you talk about the fire jumping thing? Is that supposed to symbolize anything do you know”

AM “Hmm. I’m sure it symbolizes something, I don’t know the finite definition of it but I can give you my interpretation of it because that’s sort of what folklore revolves around, right?  So my vision of it is a renewal of life, kinda like when a phenix dives into a fire and is reborn, and so its a meaning of a new year; a new life. So when you jump through it you’re kinda saying this is a new me now. And this is a new year as I branch into my new life.”

Background:

My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. A large amount of his extended family still lives in Iran, and so he has often talked about feeling disconnected from Persian culture. The Nowruz celebrations that he described happen every year in a park in the LA area. He and his family drive about 2 hours to get there, and it’s one of the only times during the year that they are able to connect with the larger Persian community in the area. The fire-jumping tradition that he spoke about seems to be a way to actively initiate a fresh state. I think that he and his family value this event so much because they are separated from the rest of their family, and their culture. By meeting with other Persians every year to celebrate a new beginning, at the same time that their family in Iran is celebrating Nowruz, they are able to bring their Persian culture, and family by extension, with them into their new year.

Context:

I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.

Thoughts:

I was really interested in the fire-jumping aspect of Nowruz. Many different cultures emphasize the idea of new beginnings around the new year. However, for my informant, his Nowruz celebration gave him a ritualistic way of acting out this new beginning. It made it so that it was almost the action, not the holiday, that symbolized this rebirth. I also thought that it was especially interesting that he referenced a popular piece of western folklore, the phoenix, when describing his traditions. I think that this represents a large part of his assimilation to American and western culture. While he is still distinctly Persian and tied to his roots, the way he thinks of his celebrations is defined by both his heritage, and his surroundings. This exemplifies the development of Persian-American culture as a separate unit from either culture.

Persian Fake Ghost Story

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).

CB “So how do you know this story?”

AM “I know this story because growing up my grandma and I guess my mother used to tell it to me. I guess its a Persian folk story that has resonated among many Persian families, and I know because many of my Persian friends have also heard this story growing up. And so the story follows as such: a man is trying to convince this woman that there is a ghost at the bottom of this sewer. And so in the street there’s this manhole cover you move it, and you go down the stair and at that bottom there is a ghost, and so to the woman says ‘There is no ghost there, I do not believe in ghosts, you are lying to me’ and so the man says ‘if you go down there and you hammer this nail at the bottom of the sewer, or the floor when you get there, I will give you $100’ (or you know that’s the equivalent). So then she says ‘okay i will do this’ and what Persian women tend to wear is this very much like, pretty much a burka, like a very long hijab. And so this women goes all the way down she goes and hammers this nail to the floor, and it’s very very dark in the sewer, and so then she goes and tries to get out and she felt something pulling her and she started screaming, and she ran up the stairs, she took off her clothes and ran up the stairs after she felt something like grabbing her and pulling her and she says ‘oh I believe you’ and she does not end up getting the money and now actually believes that there are ghosts. But what actually ended up happening was that when she nailed the nail into the floor using the hammer, she nailed her burka to the floor using the nail, and so it was kinda like burka here and then nail through it to the floor. And so what was pulling her was actually happening. It was the nail she planted herself that was grabbing onto the burka and so what was the moral of the story? You should not base entire conclusions off of one experience because that one experience might be faulty and if she would have gone back and done it again chances are that she would not have nailed the burka and she would have gotten her $100 equivalent.”

Background:

My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. He heard this story many times growing up as an example of why his family isn’t religious. His family uses the belief in ghosts as a metaphor for the larger social situation in Iran. This story encourages the listener to really think about why they believe what they believe.

Context:

I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.

Thoughts:

This example is a sort of amusing story that likely would have been told to children, however the moral and context reveals more about the culture. The story teaches you to be careful what you base your beliefs off of. It’s a warning against being too gullible, and also teaches you to be critical about who is benefiting from your beliefs. When the story is analyzed in the context provided by the background information, it is clear to see the connection to the socio-political situation in Iran. Because his parents used this story as an explanation for both why they left Iran and their atheism, it is clear to see that the story warns people to be critical of the information that the authority figures present. It teaches people to defy the masses, and decide information on their own, or else look like a fool.

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?

 

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.

 

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.

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

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.

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.

 

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.