Eidee – Persian New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Persian-American
Age: 79
Occupation: Retired
Residence: San Ramon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 18, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Farsi

Description of Informant

PK (79) is a small, frail woman with dyed blonde hair and piercing eyes. PK was born and raised in Abadan, Iran in an “Oil Company Family.” OCFs were families whose primary income came from the large British oil company in Iran. They were well compensated and taken care of, living in western-style homes in protected communities. Many OCFs were secular or subscribed to a western religion in favor of Islam. PK immigrated to England in 1976 before coming to America (California) in 1978.

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Context of Interview

The informant, PK, is cooking a traditional Persian stew (khoresh) while describing the custom to the collector, BK, her grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized.

Interview

PK: Everybody goes to “Eideedani” [visiting people on new year’s day]. But older people… sit at home. The younger people go to see older people. When I went, for instance, to see my parents… if my house was separate, first I have to go to their house, collect my “idee [gift for the new year], then they would come to my house. Even among friends, whoever is older waits at home, and all your friends— now those days there was no such thing as phones— *coughs* they’d get up and see each other. If they were home, they were, if they weren’t, then no big deal. You’d just go again later. 

PK: Then, that same day at home, the father *coughs* — for the kids—  would put paper money inside a Qur’an… inside the Qur’an they’d put money. It was not a gift like that. To be fair I don’t know about these days. Anyway, they’d put money in the Qur’an, and when the new year began, among the members of the household, the father would take money out from the Qur’an and— depending on your age— he’d give you some money. Whether it was 5 dollars [Note: PK mistakenly uses USD, as opposed to Toman], for example, or for the older ones 10 dollars— that was a lot of money! With one penny you could buy a whole bunch, where I was. Today 1 USD is 24,000 Rial. 24,000! So their money doesn’t have any value at all. Okay?

PK: Then, for instance, they’d give out 5 dollars, 10 dollars… as the years would go by and people got older and things changed, this money became 100 dollars. If you had married and gotten older, they’d give you some coins, you know? It was this way. With the times, some things have changed. Then, everyone would go “Eideedani.” The young ones would visit the old ones. You know? These days it’s the same except people call.

BK: Is “Eidee” always money?

PK: In Iran they’d give money. When we got older, they’d give us gold coins. For instance, when we were younger— you know the families… it depends on their income. Perhaps they’d give you a quarter “Pahlavi” [Note: a Pahlavi is a coin administered under the Pahlavi monarchy.], perhaps it will be half coin, perhaps it will be a whole coin. You know, like one cent, ten cents, five cents, like that

BK: And this money— you’d spend it? Or save it?

PK: Spend it! We’d go have fun with it. We’d go out and buy things. When we were kids we’d go have fun with it.

BK: You know what’s different? I always received “Eidee” as a 2-dollar bill. And we’d never spend it! I’ve collected them through the years, but I’ve never felt like they could be spent. Would you spend the gold coins too?

PK: No, the gold coins? That’s… money, you know? That’s, umm… it depends later on. We’d get ahold of these coins— today you can’t even buy them! I put a whole bunch aside for you. The best ones I gave to your mother [for her wedding]. Big round good ones. Like gold coins of coronation… the king… when they put the crown on his head. I have ones from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth too but it’s silver. I kept it for you. 

BK: Ah, when they’re coronated, they mint coins for the occasion.

PK: Yes. The silver were from England. But the gold were from Iran. *coughs* But they’d give gold, you know? And people would keep the gold. And women, imagine when they’d have too much gold, imagine you have a whole bunch of… umm quarter coins, you go to the goldsmith and have it made into a bracelet. Or a necklace, for instance, something that is larger. And I’d keep the rest.

BK: So if it was paper money or normal, day-to-day currency you’d spend it. But if it was gold you kept it.

Collector’s Reflection

The term Eideedani is a combination of two words: Eidee and deedani. Eidee, which we have established as meaning “a gift for/on Persian New Year” is derived from the name of the holiday: Eid, or Aid. Deedan, which literally means “looking,” is the Farsi term for visiting others. As PK mentioned, with the advent of technology, and the increasing size of the Iranian diaspora, physically visiting people for holidays/new year is practiced less. Instead, you make a phone call or send an email/text message. It is still essential that the young reach out to the old first. Not doing so, especially to a parent or grandparent, is a black mark on one’s reputation.

Many of the customs associated with Persian New Year predate Islam’s prevalence in the formerly Zoroastrian country, Eidee among them. Islamic influences have changed the gifting process, as in PK’s experience money is placed in a Qur’an prior to being distributed. This blesses the currency. The bills are not randomly placed in the text, but bookmark specific passages of the gifter’s choice, which they read when distributing the Eidee. A similar religiously-motivated change is the replacement of wine with vinegar on the haft seen: a table decorated with symbolic objects for Persian New Year.
In my personal experience, Eidee has continued to be purely money; no toys or sweets. The money is American currency rather than Iranian, and my family no longer shares gold for the occasion. However, people still hold on to their ages-old Eidee gold for long-term value. As PK mentioned, the value of Iranian Rial is nothing now, but she received her fair share of gold coins, and only one is still worth its weight.