“On the last Wednesday of the year, people celebrate with fireworks and actual fire. This day is less than a week before New Years, so we mostly celebrate that with fire. Some people will make fires and jump over the fire to symbolically get the energy from the fire. There is also music and dancing in the streets. Oh, another thing is that people will cover their faces so they won’t be notified [identified] and go to people’s doors and ask for food. It’s like trick or treating but for the poor; when they go around, they get money and food and it depends on the person giving them the stuff. Anyone can do this, either for fun or they’re poor.”
The celebration of fire for this holiday can be traced back to the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. In Zoroastrianism, fire is a symbol of purity, goodness and animation, so those values may be held highly by Iranian society still today, which is why some actively try to absorb that energy by physically placing themselves close to it.
As for the “trick or treating,” my friend often tells me that the Iranian people are good, but the government as a whole is corrupt. This custom is an example of that, of how perhaps the common or middle class people will help out the poor because the poor ask for help and need it. However, hiding their faces can mean either 2 things: 1) it can denote a sense of shame for begging is not esteemed in most cultures or 2) it’s a way to get help from Iranian society but not get in trouble with the larger, more oppressive entity of the Iranian government.
“‘You can’t sit on cold things or you’ll freeze your ovaries!’
This is something they say in Bulgaria, though they also say it in Russia, so maybe it’s an eastern European thing. People mainly say it to girls for obvious reasons; I guess it’s to make sure that we can still have babies later on.”
It’s interesting that there isn’t a male equivalent to this proverb; this means that the concepts of fertility and childbearing lie solely on the woman. Traditional Bulgarian society was largely patriarchal, so this follows the beliefs of many traditional societies that the only responsibilities that the woman has are to bear the husband’s children and to keep house. Therefore, this proverb is repeated even to younger girls, so that they will grow up already knowing what their main purpose is.
“Iranian New Year is on the first day of Spring, and this year it was March 23. We celebrate with a table that a bunch of symbols on it. There is “7 Seen” which are 7 things that start with the letter S. They are also 7 things you want for the new year. They could be representative like a flower for life, an apple for health, coins for wealth and these words start with S in farsi. There’s a goldfish to symbolize life; that doesn’t really start with S, but it’s there. There is also a holy book, and it could be whatever religion you do.
There is one specific time for it to be celebrated everywhere, like the idea that the time celebrated here is at the exact same time celebrated there. We give gifts and cash, and the bills must be new. For food, we eat fish and rice the night before New Years and the day after it. School’s off cause it’s a national holiday, and we get 2 weeks off. This comes later, but the 13th day after New Years is Sizdah Bedar, or Nature Day, when we’re supposed to spend time outside in nature, like go on a picnic with your family.”
This way of celebrating the New Year seems to be greatly focused on new life and beginning, rather than looking back or appreciating the past. This is appropriate for its timing in the Spring, which differs from other cultures especially in the Western World that have their New Year celebrations in the middle of Winter. The Iranian occasion of Nature Day also stems from that outlook. What is perhaps unique to this ritual is the presence of fish, whether physically prepared for food, or symbolically there to represent life. This may be because Iran is bordered by the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, and fishing was one of the earliest and quickest forms of protein in that area in the Middle East. By that idea, fishing was originally the best way to feed and sustain a lot of people, which is necessary for holiday celebrations and has taken on the meaning of life itself.
“There’s the treasure thing, it’s pretty uncommon, and I don’t know how accurate it is cause I heard it from someone in Lebanon. So we were up in the mountains in Lebanon and there was a huge boulder on the ground that had a cylinder bored out of it, um, and my cousin asked me if I knew what it was, and of course, I didn’t and he told me that up in the mountains of Lebanon, there’s not a lot of people who come to visit there so it’s like a barren landscape type of thing. So, um, people hide their treasure in the mountains, so in order to locate the treasure back, they would bore large holes into boulders, assuming the boulder wouldn’t move. And the way the bores showed you which way your treasure was, you would pour water into the void you made into the boulder, and as the water overflowed out, it has to spill out in some direction, and the direction that the water spills out in is the direction you buried your treasure. So if you were to follow that water on its journey in that direction, eventually you would find your treasure.”
This is like an occupational custom, in the sense that the custom is tied to one action and one kind of person who is a treasure hunter. If a stranger was walking by, it would take a good deal of intuition to first realize that it is a device, figure out what its use is for and how to use it. It is also a clever way to adapt to the natural landscape of Lebanon.
“So there’s the Evil Eye and the Evil Eye is present in a lot of Middle Eastern and sometimes in Greek. So essentially, it’s an abstracted eye; it’s like a blue circle, a white circle inside of that and a black dot in that. So essentially, the logic behind that, is if someone says something they like about you like “Ooh I like your hair,” you’ll walk off and if you don’t have the evil eye on you, your hair will catch on fire, or “Ohh I like your eyes,” you’ll go and get burned or something and your eyes will screw up. So it’s to ward off the bad stuff I mean, and so everyone tends to keep one of those on them, like on a keychain or on a bracelet. The Evil Eye helps protect you against people who say things like “Oh you have a really nice dress…fuckin’ hate that dress,” and then like…cause the idea is that the people who are complimenting you are secretly jealous of you. And it’s carried over, so even if you don’t have an eye on you, as long as you have a blue, like a turquoise blue on you, then you’re good.”
Based on how widespread the belief is, people in the Middle East well acknowledge the idea of jealousy and people feel that so much, that there is a strong need for protection. The symbol of the Evil Eye can be seen in a lot of places including even merchandise like jewelry and clothing. Before hearing this, I heard of the Evil Eye and seen it, but I assumed it did evil against you rather than ward it off. The name itself contradicts Western norms as usually when in America, you call something evil, you are saying that that the object itself is evil. It is interesting too that though people are aware of who is wronging them, they cling to the protection of an object rather than actively confronting the person who wished ill on them. Perhaps this is because they believe there is so much ill wishing and jealousy around, that it’s easier to rely on one thing than to strike back at everything else.