Amidst the efforts of the people as Nowruz approaches, Chaharshanbe Suri (Charshanbe Soori) arrives to sprinkle a new color on the people’s excitement on the last Tuesday of the year. The day ends and it gets dark. But the flames everywhere start an army of light to defeat the darkness. People jump over the fire to perform the Chaharshanbe Suri ritual. Meanwhile, they sing with a smile: Zardi-ye man az to, Sorkhi-ye to az man. We will talk about what it means, later.
We want to take a closer look at this custom, and review the history of Chaharshanbe Suri. Then we will see why this custom is so important that even Iranians living abroad celebrate this ancient ritual.
The Last Tuesday Evening of the Year
Chaharshanbe Suri is the name of an ancient celebration that has been held for a long time, during a glorious ceremony. Chaharshanbe is the word for Wednesday. And Suri is the name of an ancient celebration. This celebration begins at sunset on the last Tuesday of the year and continues until late at night.
You might wonder it’s Wednesday-Suri so why the last Tuesday night? Yeah, it’s a bit strange for a non-Iranian but it is OK. In fact, they celebrate the last Tuesday of the year.
How Is This Tuesday Different from Other Days of the Year?
They say that Zarathustra, by adjusting the account of time and date, succeeded in compiling a calendar. And according to his calendar, the new year happened to be on Tuesday. Half of it was Tuesday of the old year, and the new year began at noon. Since at that time they also counted the beginning of each day from midnight, they announced Wednesday as Nowruz. And started celebrating the new year the night before (on Tuesday night), with fireworks. Years passed and the celebration on the last Tuesday of the year, regardless of the day of the beginning of the year, became a long-standing cultural tradition.
Of course, Islam has also had some effect on keeping this celebration alive. The Arabs consider Wednesday or Al-Ruba ‘a a bad day. And this became an excuse for the Iranians to fight this evil. How? With partying, celebrating, and having a good time the night before. The Arabs called this night Sur-e Sorkh or Red Sur. They believed that evil days should be celebrated. So that demons and goblins would not have the opportunity to penetrate human lives.
The Day Before the Chaharshanbe Suri Celebration
As the last Tuesday of the year approaches, all people of all ages are struggling. And everyone is busy preparing for Nowruz. And on this day they get ready for Chaharshanbe Suri.
On Chaharshanbe Suri, it is customary for the younger ones to gather in the house of the elder of the family, like grandparents’. And enjoy being together. That’s why people go to the market to shop and get ready to entertain guests.
You can find all kinds of incendiary materials everywhere. And Wish balloons have a hot market these days. Old and young try to prepare themselves in the best way and make a memorable night.
Finally, the Day Comes
In the last hours of the day, little by little the sound of celebration and the noises rise. There are fires and a wave of excitement in the city. The black sky of the night is bright. And thanks to the lights, it sometimes turns red, green or yellow to share the joy of this celebration with people.
Fireworks are just one part of this adventurous celebration. After the fireworks, the streets are deserted, people go to their homes and prepare for the second part of the celebration, which is to be together.
This celebration, like any other tradition, has its own customs and traditions, which we will discuss below:
1- Starting a Fire and Jumping Over It
Burning fire is the most beautiful and oldest ritual related to Chaharshanbe Suri. And it is still the main part of this celebration after many years.
People start a fire in the yard, alley, or an open place and jump over it. It is customary for the number of fire compartments to be three or seven.
And people read the phrase out loud when jumping over them:
Zardi-ye man az to, Sorkhi-ye to az man. Literally, this phrase means My yellowness from you, Your redness from me.
But in-depth, it means that I throw away diseases and illnesses in the fire and embrace the health and wellness that fire brings with it.
There is an ancient tradition that used to be part of the Fire Ceremony. But today it has no place among the people. In the past, people believed that the ashes of the Chaharshanbe Suri fire were sinister. So they dumped the ashes, outside the house, against a wall. And the one who dumped the ashes would knock on the door. Then, someone from the inside would ask
-“Who is it?”
He would answer: -“It’s me”.
-“Where are you coming from?”
-“From the wedding”
-“What did you bring with you?”
2- The Firecrackers
Today, this celebration is a bit out of its traditional style. And it has gone through some changes. It is not just starting a fire and jumping over it, nowadays. The firecracker and crackles create different environments on the streets. and at the same time, they are sometimes annoying.
Different kinds of Squibs and firecrackers have made Chaharshanbe Suri take on a new shape. And it is held differently than before. You can see colorful fires and waterfalls of sparks everywhere.
3- Breaking the Pottery
Pottery-breaking is one of those forgotten traditions of this ancient celebration. After making a fire and jumping over it, they throw some salt in a pottery pot to repel the evil eyes. They add a coin to keep away poverty and some charcoal to wash away misery.
Then each member of the family turns the pottery around their head once. Then the last person takes the pottery to the roof of the house and throws it into the alley. At the same time, he/she says: I dump the pain and misery of the house in the alley. And this way they keep the evil eyes, misery, and poverty away from the house.
This custom is slightly different among some tribes. Some of them on the last Wednesday evening of the year, break old pottery in every house and say: Go away the bad luck Wednesday and never come back. Go and take all your bad luck with you.
Another forgotten Chaharshanbe Suri ritual is Overhearing. On this night, those who have a wish stand on a crossroad and intentionally listen to the passers-by. They pay attention to the words of the first passer-by who passes by them and take whatever he says according to their intentions as good or bad sign. If what the passer-by is saying agrees with his wish, he considers that his wish will be fulfilled.
Some instead of going on the streets, stand behind a closed door. And take the first word they hear from the room as a good or bad omen.
Qashoq is the Persian word for the spoon. And Qashoqzani means taping with a spoon. Usually, girls and boys who have a wish to come true do this ritual. They hold a spoon, tap on a metal bowl, and stand at the door of seven houses at a time.
Homeowners, knowing that these people need something, throw some nuts or money and coins into their bowls. According to tradition, if someone cannot get anything from the homeowner, their wish will not come true.
6- Finding the Prince
In the past, among the celebrations of Chaharshanbe Suri, the girls who were ready to marry had their own ceremonies. In one of these ceremonies, they bought some candies and seven walnuts from a herb shop facing the Qibla (Toward Mecca). Then they took them to a pottery shop. The potter would put them on the potter’s wheel and spin them seven times. The girls broke a walnut in each round and sang special poems. At the end of the seventh round, they gave money and candy to the potter and returned home and waited for the prince!! 😀
7- Frankincense and Wild Rue
One of the rituals of Chaharshanbe Suri in the distant past was that women used to go to a herb shop whose shop faced the Qibla and asked for frankincense. Then when the shopper went to get it, they ran away. Then they went to another shop and asked for Esfand (Wild Rue).
And again, this time they escaped at a proper time. Then, they bought some frankincense and Esfand in a third shop. They put them on the fire as soon as they got home. They believed this way they would get rid of the evil eye and their problems would be solved.
8- Divination with Bologna
One of the sweetest old and lost Chaharshanbe Suri rituals is divination with Bologna. Of course, they did it mostly for entertainment and fun. Bologna is small, wide-mouthed pottery used in the past to store dry or pickled spices, jams, and so on. Young women and girls would gather at the ceremony, and everyone would throw one of the things they had on them into Bologna as a token.
They wrote poems on pieces of paper and threw them into the container. Then one of them has to take a piece of paper out of Bologna and read the poem on it. Then, she dipped her hand into the Bologna again, this time pulling one of the objects out of it. Whoever the object belonged to, the poem that she read out loud in advance, was the answer to her wish.
9- Pearl Cannon
The pearl Cannon was a ceremony for the people of Tehran. In Tehran’s Arg Square, there was an old cannon that had remained there for a hundred years. On Chaharshanbe Suri nights, women and girls would climb on the cannon and sit on it or pass under it for good luck. They believed this way their wishes would come true.
10- Wish Balloons
One of the ceremonies that has no place in our cultural roots and has opened its way among the Chaharshanbe Suri ceremonies, in the last few years, is sending wish balloons to the sky.
You can send your wishes to heaven and watch them rise. See how these lights in the darkness illuminate the sky and become a tiny dot. These balloons are in different colors and give a fresh image to the sky.
Delicious Food on Chaharshanbe Suri
Chaharshanbe Suri is not just about fireworks and carols. The special dishes of this celebration are also part of its fun. Here are some examples:
1- Chaharshanbe Suri Nuts
Preparing and eating salty and sweet nuts is one of the delicious parts of Chaharshanbe Suri. These nuts, in addition to the main ingredients of salted nuts, dried peach and apricot, green and black raisins, pistachios, almonds, and unroasted hazelnuts, noql, candy, and walnut kernels.
When families sit together and talk warmly, eating nuts makes the atmosphere much more enjoyable.
In the past, women used to buy Chaharshanbe Suri nuts, and distribute them among the family or others, to make their wishes come true. While cleaning the nuts, they told some ancient story.
People believed that eating these nuts on Chaharshanbe Suri night is good luck and causes good fortune. It was also customary that they distributed the nuts among family members at the end of the night. So that they would not be wasted.
2- Ash for the Sick
In ancient times, it was common that if a family had a sick or weak member, they would make a dish called Ash-e Bimar (Ash for the Sick). Then they would give it to their patients. And they distribute the rest among other patients or the needy. It was some kind of give-away with the hope of their own patient’s health.
Today, however, there is no sign of this custom, but in every city, ash is a favorite food. And people prepare it for different occasions according to where they are from.
3- Chaharshanbe Suri Dish
On this night, in addition to celebrating and rejoicing, the women of the family prepare very tasty food. And everyone enjoys it. The same foods that were cooked from the distant past, still color the Iranian tables today.
One of the most famous Chaharshanbe Suri night meals is fish and Sabzi-polo (cooked rice with some veggies). Dolmeh (some delicious ingredients wrapped in vine leaves), which is very delicious, is another dish related to this celebration.
In the meantime, seven-color pilaf shines on the table. It’s rice with slices of orange peel or even carrots, raisins, barberry, almond flakes, pistachio slices, dates, and cherry jam.
Chaharshanbe Suri in Different Parts of Iran
Just as any celebration has a special ritual among the tribes living in Iran, Chaharshanbe Suri rituals might differ slightly in different regions of the country. Here are some special Iranian ceremonies on this occasion:
Baneh City – Kurdistan Province
In the city of Baneh, women cut a bunch of their children’s hair and throw it away on Chaharshanbe Suri night. They believe that this will remove the harm from the children. And they think not doing so will transfer the calamities to the new year.
Egg breaking is one of the most popular games on this tonight in Kurdish areas. Interestingly, it includes dancing and breaking eggs. To do this, they put a colored egg in their fist so that its head is out. Then they hit their egg to someone else’s. The one whose egg break loses and must deliver an egg to the winner.
Masal – Gilan Province
In Masal, the lady of the house puts a plate of all the food she has cooked for this celebration on the porch of the house. They believe that a lady named Chaharshanbeh Khatoon (Wednesday Lady) visits the village on the last Tuesday of each year. When she sees the houses clean after the housecleaning (for the new year), she tastes the food left on the porch. And then prays for the people of the house. And she wishes them a year full of blessings and happiness.
Northwest of Iran – Azeri Region
In the northwest and west of Iran, the shawl (scarf) ceremony is very popular. In this ceremony, people hang long scarves from the roof into the houses. At the end of the scarf, there is a bag. The landlord puts some nuts and fruits into the bag. And then they pull the scarves up to the roof and enjoy their catch. 😀
Chaharshanbe Suri in Ancient Iran
In ancient times, many celebrations were held to welcome Nowruz. One of them was Suri. Suri means red. And this concept refers to the fire that they lit on this day. It is stated in the History of Bukhara:
When Amir Sadid Mansour ibn Nuh (961 to 976) ascended to the throne, it was not until the end of the year that they lit a huge fire on Suri night, as is the old custom.
Each of the twelve months in ancient Iran was 30 days. And therefore each year had 360 days. To compensate for the deficit of 5 days of the year, another five days were added to the last month of the year. This way, the solar year would be exactly 365 days and it was called “Behizak” or “Panj-e Dozdideh” (stolen five). They held the Suri night at the same time as they do today, the last Tuesday of the year. And they lit the fire on the roofs to escape the cold and create heat. This was for good luck. And also according to the ancients, the fire and the smoke on the roofs, draw the spirit of their dead to their homes.
Burning fire on the roofs was the last step of their rituals regarding the last ten days of the year.
The Fire Setters
A few days before Nowruz, male and female artists marched in towns and villages. They were in charge of setting fires. They announced to the people this celebration and let them know that they had arrived to bring happiness and bliss. These groups sang hymns, happy songs and entertained people with their street performances.
From the seven days before Nowruz until two weeks later, when it got dark, they lit fires in different parts of the city and the village and kept them on until sunrise. This fire was a symbol of the power of love, light, and friendship. The purpose of lighting fire was to return the increasing strength and good spirit to the people. So that they could overcome grief and depression. This goal is the reason for holding the Sadeh ceremony in the middle of winter.
Chaharshanbe Suri in Other Countries
Little by little, this ritual found its way to other cultures. Caucasian Aryans still light seven fires and jump over them at this night. According to an ancient Swedish tradition, Valbury”, they celebrated the beginning of spring by setting a big fire. Rural people in southern Romania also had the ritual of lighting fires.
The Story of the “Hafteh” 0r “Week”
In our time, Iranians call this ritual Chaharshanbe Suri. Today in Iran, the week starts on Saturday and ends on Friday. In ancient Iran, the division of the week was not Saturday to Thursday and Friday. In the Iranian calendar, every day of the month had also a name, such as Amerdad, Azar, Soroush, Vorharam, Sepandar Mazd, and so on. The “week” is rooted in the religions that believed that the creation of the world took place in six days. And that God rested on the seventh day. The seventh day in Hebrew was called Shanbeh (Saturday) meaning leisure and comfort. Then the division of the days of the week from Jews went to Arabs and then from Arabs to Iranians.
The Arabs had a particular belief regarding each day of the week. They considered Wednesdays sinister. That’s why they spent this sinister day happily to ward off demons.
Katayoun Mazdapour, a Zoroastrian writer and researcher, describes Wednesday’s connection with Zoroastrianism as follows:
Persian celebrations and rituals belonged to all Iranians and they still do. Many of them date back to before the Aryans migrated to this land. And many of them were never Zoroastrian, such as Chaharshanbe Soori.
Chaharshanbe Suri in Shahnameh
In Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (written 977–1010 CE), there are references to a celebration on the night before the last Wednesday of the year. This shows that this ritual is ancient. In this valuable book, Siavash is one of the most oppressed figures who was not captivated by the misplaced love and temptation of his stepmother and remained pure.
The story of this love reached his father Kikavous. And then Siavash asked him to set seven tunnels of fire to prove his innocence. They agreed if Siavash passed through the fire tunnels and survived, his innocence would be guaranteed.
It was on the last Tuesday of the year that Siavash came out of this test proudly. Then his father ordered to rejoice in the middle of the main square of the city for Wednesday. Something that has come to us today as Chaharshanbe Suri has roots in this event.
Chaharshanbe Suri at Chehelston Palace
We can even find traces of Chaharshanbe Suri in historical monuments, such as Chehelston Palace. The name of the southern hall of this palace is Chaharshanbe Suri.
There is an interesting painting that shows a ritual very similar to Chaharshanbe Suri. This painting is one of the very old paintings of this palace. It was painted in the Safavid period (1501- 1736) under the supervision of Reza Abbasi.
Of course, we can not say for sure this painting is of the same ritual. But the fire and the gathering of people around it are obvious. Some believe that the painting may be related to an Indian tradition, relating to the dead and their afterlife and that the Iranians only depicted it.
Is This Celebration as Beautiful as the Past?
Chaharshanbe Suri, like any other cultural event, has changed over time and taken on a whole new look. Maybe still people light a fire and jump over it. But there are no signs of other rituals except some of them such as Qashoqzani that in recent years the youth are trying to bring back from the dead.
Mostly, the explosives, large fireworks on the streets have taken the place of the ancient rituals. And people celebrate this night differently. Aside from the smell of burning paper and garbage instead of dry wood and shrubs, the share of sweepers and municipal officials from this celebration is only garbage and its remnants. When people are tired and fall asleep after the celebration, these hardworking people are cleaning the city to be clean by tomorrow.
Those old and interesting ceremonies have been replaced by the terrible sounds that can be heard from the explosion of the firecrackers. Every year, many fall victim to mischief and cause a lot of problems. The use of such explosives is not at all gratifying for the elderly or those who have problems. And it may be harmful to them and cause discomfort.
This ancient custom, which was supposed to be an excuse to get together, has now become a cause for fear. Rest assured that if this celebration had any purpose other than to make hearts happy and cleanse the soul from evil and a sense of peace, it would have disappeared throughout history and would not be remembered for good today.
Anyway, apart from some who want to do explosives, there are many families that get together and create a beautiful night by partying, eating delicious food, and jumping over the seven fires they set.
Do you have any traditions like this in your hometown?
Have you ever experienced an Iranian Chaharshanbe Suri?
If yes, how was it?
Thank you for joining us on this trip into one of the ancient cultures of Persia. We hope you have enjoyed it. If so please let us know in the comments. Remember your words are worth the world to us.
If you need any more information or you would like to experience a safe memorable Chaharshanbe Suri night in Iran with Tappersia, you can reach us via the contact info below the same page.
Hope to see you soon in Iran!
Last Edited: June 25, 2021
Pasargad, Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
Varzaneh Desert, Isfahan, Iran
Chelgerd, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, Iran
Shahdad Kalouts, Shahdad, Kerman Province, Iran