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Iranians celebrate end of New Year festival

Despite admonition by the Ayatollahs, pre-Islamic traditions peek through the veil

Iranian families celebrating the ancient festival of Sizdeh Bedar outdoors. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian families celebrating the ancient festival of Sizdeh Bedar outdoors. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

ESFARAYEN, Iran (AP) — Iranians flocked to parks and orchards to mark Sizdeh Bedar, an ancient festival that predates Islam and goes back thousands of years to the time when Zoroastrianism was the predominant religion of Persia.

An Iranian woman plays on a swing during a picnic marking the ancient festival of Sizdeh Bedar. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Like the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, Sizdah Bedar is a Zoroastrian holiday attributed to the legendary King Jamshid, who celebrated outdoors with the Persian people. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s hard-line ruling clerics have discouraged many pre-Islamic rituals, but they’ve been unable to put Iranians off the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, and its ending celebration of Sizdeh Bedar.

An Iranian family picnics while marking the ancient festival of Sizdeh Bedar outside Esfarayen, Iran. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Sizdah Berdar is reported to have been celebrated by the Persians as long ago as 536 BC. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

The festival falls on the thirteenth day of Nowruz — Sizdeh is 13 and Bedar means “passing” in Persian.

It is believed to be bad luck to stay indoors for the holiday, so families and friends traditionally head outdoors for an elaborate picnic lunch.

Iranian women play ball during a picnic marking ancient festival of Sizdeh Bedar near Esfarayen, Iran. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Though Iran is now the Islamic Republic, approximately 20,000 Zoroastrians still adhere to the ancient Persian faith in Iran. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

The festival has several traditions. Iranians throw trays of sprouted seeds that have been sitting on their Nowruz tables into water representing happy life. Young and old alike tie blades of grass or flowers together in the hope the New Year will be filled with happiness and prosperity. Young girls usually make wishes to get married as they tie the blades of grass.

Iranian families picnicking in celebration of the ancient festival of Sizdeh Bedar. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Although clerical authorities tried to dampen public enthusiasm for Nowruz and Sizdeh Bedar after the Islamic Revolution, this puritanical approach has since toned down. (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

Nowruz is also celebrated in parts of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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