(RFE/RL) | March 21, 2010
By Abbas Djavadi

Maryam had invited her two daughters and their husbands and grandchildren for Norouz, the New Year’s feast, to her home in western Tehran when I called her on Saturday. It was after 9:02 p.m. when “tahvil,” the change from the old to the new year, 1389 after Iranian calendar, was celebrated at Maryam’s apartment, as it was in hundreds of thousands of other households in Iran and other countries. She had prepared a beautiful Haft Seen, the Norouz table, and cooked delicious Iranian food. The television was on to follow the announcement of the “tahvil,” after which everyone congratulated each other and the children received their New Year’s presents. Then they put on CDs to hear good, entertaining music — something happier than what they always hear from local radio and television.

Every year on the eve of the first day of spring, millions of people in Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and parts of Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, and India celebrate the beginning of a New Year, rendered as Nowruz, in Persian: “New Day.” Others call it Navruz, Nevroz, Nevruz, or Norouz (which is also RFE/RL’s style for the holiday). It is a time of new beginning, peace, joy, and family — very similar to Christmas and New Year’s in much of the Western world. Celebrated since the sixth century BC, it has become an integral part of numerous peoples’ culture and tradition. Last February, the United Nations’ General Assembly recognized the “International Day of Nowruz, a spring festival of Persian origin.”

For Maryam, this year’s Norouz ritual started as it did every year — with a spring clean-up of the apartment two weeks before Norouz. Later, on the last Wednesday of the old year, her sons-in-law and grandchildren went out for “Chaharshanbeh Suri,” the fire festival in which people light small fires and spring over them, singing their wishes for the next year.

This year, as so often in the last 20 years, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had issued a fatwa, or religious advisory. The fire festival “has no religious basis and will create a lot of damage and [moral] corruption,” the Khamenei’s fatwa noted, asking people not to attend it. Still, tens of thousands of Iranians went out into the streets or suburbs to mark the fire festival.

In an e-mail to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, an unnamed Iranian said: “Khamenei has again made clear that he is hostile to our traditions. But the fatwa also shows that he [Khamenei] is ready to sacrifice political wisdom to what he thinks is religious dogma.”

Read the full article in Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.