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Fireworks Offer an Illicit Thrill Ahead of Iranian New Year

The preparations for Fireworks Wednesday started Tuesday afternoon when the gardeners carefully laid out seven small piles of sand near the square. Seven is regarded as a holy number in Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith. They then brought over several wheelbarrow loads of firewood. I noticed several of my neighbors peeking down from their balconies.

Fireworks Wednesday is traditionally celebrated on the last Tuesday before the end of the Iranian year, which goes by a solar calendar. The celebration is on a Tuesday evening because festivities in Iran often take place on the eve of a holiday.

The authorities do not allow a large gathering for the festival, so across Tehran people can be seen jumping over fires in alleyways and other secluded places. Usually the small gatherings are tolerated.

After sunset, I went down to the square and found my neighbors geared up. The moon was yellow and nearly full. Asal Khalilpour, a 32-year-old fashion designer, began to jump over the seven fires. As she made the leaps, she whispered an incantation: “Zardi ye man az to, sorkhi ye to az man,” which means, “My yellow is yours, your red is mine.” The idea is that the fire withdraws all of the old of the passing year and gives energy for the new.

In the distance stood Sadaf Sadeghianpour with her grandmother Mahroo Mozzafari, who had insisted on coming down from the 18th floor. The grandmother couldn’t jump but as she held Sadaf’s hand, she waved her leg over the fire.


A woman raising a foot over a fire during the festivities. The fire is said to withdraw the old of the passing year and give energy for the new. Credit Thomas Erdbrink

The children seemed to be having the best time. Ryan Asgharpour, 8, launched balls of fire into the air with his father, Alborz, while other children threw firecrackers at each other. Since the government discourages people from celebrating the holiday, there are no campaigns on how to safely handle firecrackers or Roman candles. Parents laughed, children cheered and someone turned up the music, which made even some of my more reserved neighbors break into smiles.


Iran’s authorities, led by conservative Muslim clerics, do not approve of the Zoroastrian festival, but it is widely celebrated and tolerated. Credit Thomas Erdbrink

Loud bangs and bright flashes lit up the tower blocks as Chinese-made fireworks — illegal but widely available in Iran — went up in the air.

“This is the one night a year that we go all out,” said Ida Afshar, a computer science major.

Nearby, a friend, Nazanin, sneaked up on a woman who lives down her corridor and dropped a firecracker right behind her back. Nazanin giggled as the women let out a small scream. “That one is for last year,” said Nazanin, who had grown tired of her neighbor’s complaints.


“This is the one night a year that we go all out,” said Ida Afshar, a computer science major. Credit Thomas Erdbrink

Back home, looking out from my balcony, it looked as if the festivities could go on all night.


At 9 o’clock sharp, the festivities stopped and Tehran returned to normal. Credit Thomas Erdbrink

But at exactly 9 p.m. the music was turned off and everyone went home. “Iran is not Ibiza,” said someone riding in my elevator. “But this was pretty great.”

Source: NYT > World

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