Iranians celebrate a historical Persian Festival of Fire, their hearts throbbing with the anticipation of approaching Nowruz (New Year) holidays even as they are concerned by notorious and dangerous celebratory antics by gung-ho revelers.
“Chaharshanbeh Suri,” as the festival is known in Persian, falls on the last Tuesday of the year, preceding the 13-day New Year holidays.
As part of the celebratory rituals, people light fires and jump over them. While jumping over fire, they are expected to shout out, “I consign my yellowness to you, and take your ruddiness instead.” This means trading what is expendable in their soul with the flames’ effulgence of life.
The tradition has its roots in the rituals of Persia’s ancient Zoroastrian era.
All sweetness and smiles so far! An unwelcome concomitant of the occasion, especially in more recent history, has been explosions in ramshackle structures, where some individuals, mostly youths, proceed to make fireworks for the festival.
A blast in one such location recently claimed seven lives in the northwestern city of Ardabil.
But people are also likely to be hit by stray fireworks during the celebrations and many are repulsed by the excessive noise from firecrackers.
Knowing it is better safe than sorry, mass media and security forces annually mobilize well in advance of the festival to head off lurking fiascos. Many ordinary Iranians, too, also campaign to dissuade young people from setting off fireworks.
This year, a campaign has been launched against the use of fireworks by calling attention to a recent tragedy in which at least 20 people — including 16 fire fighters — lost their lives when an old high-rise collapsed in downtown Tehran on January 19.
The firefighters had already evacuated civilians from the Plasco building and were busy extinguishing a raging fire — unrelated to “Chaharshanbeh Suri” — when the entire structure collapsed.
That incident marked a moment of extreme sadness for the Iranian people. The firefighters have been esteemed as national heroes who sacrificed their own lives to save others. People have been campaigning, including on social media, against fireworks in tribute to the firefighters killed in the Plasco tragedy and to firefighting personnel throughout the country.