For thousands of years, Persian tradition has placed huge importance on the exact moment of the spring equinox—the sublime moment when the sun crosses the equator and day and night, light and darkness, hang in perfect balance. That’s the beginning of their new year—Nowruz—and in a fabulous meeting of Zoroaster and the Internet, a website has been created with a countdown clock calibrated to the millisecond.

Persia has become Iran, and many of its former citizens live in Los Angeles. What could be more spirit-lifting than a story about Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and non-believing Persian-Americans gathering there  to celebrate their common heritage instead of waging war over their differences? In such a beautiful world, even Democratic and Republican senators could work together!

I was deep into research about the intricate Nowruz feast—with its many similarities to a Passover seder and Easter dinner, as well as its fabulous idiosyncracies—when my old reporter instincts kicked in and I decided to check on the observance of Nowruz in contemporary Iran.

Uh-oh.

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Chahārshanbe Suri. Image from Flickr via (Creative Commons License)

On the last Wednesday before Nowruz, it’s traditional to build bonfires and jump over them, in a ritual called Chaharshanbe Suri. The act symbolizes not only crossing from one year to the next but turning illness into health: thus the traditional chant, “Give me your beautiful red color, take back my sickly pallor.”

According to several sites centered on the Middle East, Iranian police have pre-denounced the fires as a security threat. Meanwhile, religious leaders have issued a fatwah against the ritual, calling it superstitious and an attempt to weaken religion in society. Although some celebrations occurred without incident, there were also clashes and arrests.

So, yes, for a perfect moment—6:45:11 p.m. tonight, March 20, in New York—there will be balance in the heavens, but the earth trembles on its axis as the struggle for power goes on. And on.

 

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  • Lucy Weber March 24, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    What a wonderfully fascinating and funny article. Is there any bonfire jumping happening in White Plains?

    Reply
    • Nancy Weber March 24, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Proving yet again that Lucying is often better than Googling. (Full disclosure: she’s my niece.) Yes, many Persian/Iranians in & around White Plains–as I should have known from the days when I was lucky enough to meet IBM scientists who’d come from around the world to work in Westchester. Anyway, Lucy, following up on your note led me to an exuberant, fascinating blogpost about the nowruz celberation Michelle Obama hosted at the White House. Thoughtful politics and a menu, too. http://www.onbeing.org/blog/persian-new-year-at-the-white-house/7406

      Reply
  • Toni Myers March 20, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Completely fun. A festival I’d never heard of. Thanks for letting us in on it.

    Reply