To get to know a culture, you need to understand how people of that culture confront different situations and occasions. Celebrating the arrival of a new year is one of the most common ceremonies all around the world. And yet, different cultures do it at different times and in different manners. In Iran for example, the new year starts with the first day of the spring. It is unlike many countries which consider the 1st day of January as a national holiday for the new year.
The interesting point is that as well as starting the new year in a totally different period of time, Iranian people celebrate it with completely different ceremonies. These ceremonies start with cleaning the house for getting ready for the arrival of spring and Chaharshanbe Suri and end with Sizdah Be-dar, which is the last day of new year’s holiday.
Sizdah Be-dar is one of the oldest ceremonies in Persian culture. It also forms an important part of celebrating the new year. The philosophy behind this special day, as well as how the Iranian people celebrate it is an interesting story. So, join us in this article to explore this ancient Persian ceremony together.
Sizdah Be-dar literally means to spend the thirteen outdoor, as Sizdah is number 13 in Farsi language. As mentioned earlier, the new year’s holiday finishes on this day, which means it takes long 13 days. Sizdah be-dar is also known as Nature’s day on the national calendar. That is because people celebrate this day picnicking outdoor and close to nature. In fact, it is impossible to celebrate the last day of Nowruz holiday without leaving the house and joining nature. So, if you are in Iran during this day, you will see many families and groups having fun outdoor!
Unlike what many people believe, 13 is not a bad omen in Persian culture. In fact, none of the days of the year is considered ominous or unlucky in the Iranian calendar. On the contrary, each day of the week and month have had beautiful names associated with one of the manifestations of nature or God. The 13th day of each month in the Solar calendar is named “Tir Rooz”. It is named after the star which in ancient Iran was believed to be the star of rain and considered to bring grace and blessing of God. That’s why they have chosen the 13th day of the first month, Farvardin, as the first Tirgan Ceremony of the year. The aim was to officially end the Nowruz ceremonies by being next to nature and rejoice. Sizdah Be-dar, therefore, was an end to the most important ceremony of the year. So, it should be celebrated in the best possible way.
Many believe that the history of Sizdah Be-dar dates back to the reign of Jamshid, the fourth Shah of the Pishdadian dynasty of Persia according to Shahnameh. In Persian mythology and folklore, Jamshid is described as the fourth and greatest king of the Pishdadian Dynasty. But there are many pieces of evidence gained from the Sumerian and Babylonian inscriptions which prove that the Sizdah Be-dar festival can have around 4000 years of history. The myth of rain is an interesting story about Tishtar, the god of rain defeating the demon of drought on this day and turns it to a sacred date.
As well as leaving the house and picnicking outdoor, there are several customs and special traditions that are intertwined with celebrating the last day of Nowruz. The most common one is to release sprouting greens back into nature. As you may know, Iranians grow greenery or as they call it Sabzeh for Haft-seen which is a costumery setting for the new year. People return their Sabzeh back to nature by throwing it into the water. To touch someone else’s Sabzeh or bring your Sabzeh back home is considered as a bad omen.
Another interesting custom is knotting the greenery. It is believed that if you make a wish while doing this, it will come true. Mostly young people and especially young single girls do it to find a partner or husband in this new year!
There is also another version of prank-playing April Fool’s Day which is called the Lie of Thirteen. This game is believed to be played since the reign of the Achaemenid dynasty in Iran and people try to fool each other by telling a lie!
People also celebrate this day eating special foods. The most common one is to eat Ash Reshte which is one of the most popular types of thick soup in Iranian cooking. Ash reshteh features reshteh (similar to noodle) and kashk (a special salty dairy product) and is commonly made in Iran and Azerbaijan. Eating lettuce with Sekanjabin is another part of celebrating Sizdah Be-dar. Sekanjabin is one of the oldest Iranian drinks which is made of honey and vinegar. It is usually served in warmer seasons of the year and is sometimes seasoned with mint.