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Shadia: Celebrating Persian new year in CdM

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

March 14, 2012|By Mona Shadia

'Twas the night before the last Wednesday of the year — pretty much Tuesday, bear with me.

It was a night when families and friends gather 'round the fire, sharing food, drinks and desserts, welcoming in the new year with open arms, happy thoughts and warm wishes.

They sing and dance. And they jump over the fire, which is believed to inhale away the yellow color of illness and sadness and replace it with the red color of flames, which symbolizes health and wellness in all aspects.

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Sounds ancient and non-Western, doesn't it?

It is.

And it all went down Tuesday night at Corona del Mar State Beach, and I was in the middle of it. And judging from the City Council's Tuesday decision to remove the storied fire rings, it could be the last celebration I attend in CdM.

Chaharshanbeh Soori, or the Festival of Fire, is an ancient Persian tradition that dates to the Zoroastrian era. The festival takes place the night (Tuesday) before the last Wednesday of the year — that's how they say it — leading to Norooz, which is the beginning of the Persian spring new year. Yes, it's a bit complicated, as Middle Easterners can be (ahem).

This year, Norooz begins around 10 p.m. Monday.

Tuesday is the first day of the spring new year, and the celebration goes on for 13 days. Chaharshanbeh Soori, as it was explained to me by friends, allows Persians the chance to prepare for the new year, letting go of all the bad and welcoming the good. It's a cultural holiday, and all Persians celebrate it, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Persian families roll out what's called Sofreh Haft Seen, a dining room table full of seven items that start with the letter 'C' in Farsi. Some of those items are Persian rice and whitefish, coins, garlic and sprouts.

Although I've been to Norooz picnics and celebrations in the past, this was my first Chaharshanbeh Soori.

The council's decision marked the end of the Mashadi family and friends' 22-year-long tradition of celebrating Chaharshanbeh Soori at Corona del Mar State Beach.

I parked next to Morteza Mashadi and his brother, Majid, their respective wives and children. I watched as they greeted friends and pulled wood and pots of food out of their car. I decided, "They seem nice. I'll talk to them."

I know Farsi, so I greeted them that way. "Saalom (Hi)," I said. "Cheetori? (How are you?)" — and that's all I needed to start the conversation.

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