March 17, 2017
The traditional herald of Now Ruz is Haji Firuz, the black-faced minstrel who wanders the streets and alleys of cities and towns entertaining Iranians with music, songs, skits, poems and stories.
Haji Firuz appears during the last month of the year, Esfand, to announce that it is time to prepare to celebrate the New Year. He travels about accompanied by a group of musicians.
Haji Firuz and his companions dress in red costumes and wear felt hats. Sometimes Haji Firuz greases his uncovered hair, sticks cotton into it, and thus presents himself as a good natured, old “uncle,” rather than the agile young man he usually is.
The tradition of Haji Firuz reached its zenith in Tehran during the first 50 years of the 20th Century. During this golden era, groups of men would form Haji Firuz groups, similar to the Mummers clubs of Philadelphia, who also originated as New Year minstrels, and the Mardi Gras clubs of New Orleans.
The man with the most talented entertainment personality emerged as the Haji Firuz of each group. His companions also had to have some talent, especially the ability to play an instrument. Shyness was not a quality that got one into a Haji Firuz group!
Haji Firuz and his companions played a variety of traditional instruments. Most commonly these included the saz, the kamancheh, and the drum.
As Haji Firuz wandered from neighborhood to neighborhood—his friends announcing his approach with loud music—he performed a variety of comic routines, recited beloved poems, sang popular folk songs and told stories. The audiences would shower him with coins to thank him for bringing them good cheer.
Often well-to-do persons would invite Haji Firuz into their gardens to entertain their families and guests. Sometimes Haji Firuz and his friends would be rewarded with a hearty meal for their efforts.
Haji Firuz’s main goal was to make people laugh. Many poems about Now Ruz and Haji Firuz refer to the happiness he spreads during the New Year celebration.
Haji Firuz characters were never confined to Tehran, but have been found in most of Iran’s towns during Now Ruz. Along the Caspian seacoast, Haji Firuz groups wandered from town to town, stopping in villages in between to entertain the residents.
Among the favorite songs of Haji Firuz is this one:
Wind and rain have gone.
Lord Now Ruz has come.
Friends, convey this message.
The New Year has come again
This spring be your good luck
The tulip fields be your joy.
While today’s Haji Firuz is a comic figure, he derives from a more straight-laced tradition, according to Persian literature. Long ago, it was a Now Ruz custom for villagers to select an upstanding and handsome young man to parade through the streets of the village on a decorated horse or camel, followed by a procession of villagers singing and playing tambourines and drums. Wherever this Haji Firuz would stop, the shopkeeper or resident presented him and his followers with food and gifts.
In a ritual designed to bring an unmarried girl good luck and a good husband, mothers tied seven knots in the clothes of their unmarried daughters and hid them from view. When the Haji Firuz went by, the anxious mother would run out and pull a boy—one too young to marry—from the entourage. The boy could bring the girl good luck by untying the seven knots.