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    Scratch an American tradition and find a Persian root

    March 17, 2017

    To Americans, Now Ruz has a strange touch to it, but quite a number of customs that Americans hold dear actually come down to us from ancient Persian traditions that penetrated other cultures centuries ago.

    Many cultures have spring and harvest rites. In Iran, the spring rite—Now Ruz—came to dominate all other holidays. In the United States, the harvest rite—Thanksgiving—is emerging as the dominant holiday, more important in many families than Christmas.

    The two holidays, Thanksgiving and Now Ruz, are very different. But they are the same in one key way. Both are holidays that can be celebrated by all ethnic groups, because they are not the preserve of a dominant religious sect. And both are holidays that celebrate cultural history without the histrionics associated with holidays linked to wars and conflict, like the American 4th of July or the Iranian Revolution Day.

    Now Ruz is a holiday for all Iranians—Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian. Similarly, Thanksgiving is a holiday that joins Protestant, Catholic, Jew and the rising numbers of adherents of other religions—Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, and, of course, Muslim.   But there are more direct links between Now Ruz and American culture.

    Take the Easter egg. The gaily colored egg is an Iranian concept, created millennia ago as part of the spring rite of Now Ruz.

    Easter is, in fact, a classic spring rite of the old world around which is wrapped the solemn theological message of Christianity. Although Easter is not the premier holiday of American society, it is the keystone holiday of Christianity, for it carries the message of Christianity, the message of eternal life—of renewal—associated with the resurrection of Christ.

    Ancient Christians are believed to have settled on the springtime celebration of Easter because they associated spring with the primary rite of the year—because that is what the Persians taught them.  Not incidentally, Now Ruz is also the celebration of the renewal of life.

    When we look at Easter, we can see how Now Ruz has come down through the centuries to find a home in the New World.

    First, as mentioned, we have the colored egg of Now Ruz transmuted into the Easter egg   Second, we have the new clothing and fancy finery worn in the Easter parade. Now Ruz tradition decrees that every good Persian must have at least one article of clothing that is new to mark the new year.

    (Fortunately, Americans have not adopted a related Now Ruz tradition found in some provinces where families throw out all their earthenware dishes at Now Ruz and start with a whole new set!)

    Third, there is the American tradition of “spring cleaning,” which is no more than “Now Ruz cleaning” in Yankee finery. In Iran, it is rug cleaning time. Furniture is repaired and refinished. Houses are often repainted. But, first and foremost, the windows and doorways are opened and all the accumulated dust of the winter months is swept out.

    Now Ruz is also far more than a holiday. It has never been confined to a solitary day. It is really a holiday season, one that is anticipated for weeks beforehand—much as Christmas in the United States has evolved from a one-day event in the early days of the republic into a month long season that starts with Thanksgiving, reaches its high point on Christmas Day, and continues through New Year’s Day.

    Now Ruz is a similar long season with a precursor holiday on Chahar Shambeh Souri a few days before the new year, with the high point reached on Now Ruz day itself, and with a continuation of events through to conclusion 13 days later on Sizdeh Bedar.

    Sizdeh Bedar usually falls on April 2, sometimes a day earlier.  One of the things for which Sizdeh Bedar is known is practical jokes.  And, thus, April Fool’s Day has its foundation in Iranian tradition.

    At the bottom, then, Now Ruz isn’t such a “foreign” holiday after all.

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