It was the beginning of spring, and the night sky lit up with sparks from the flames—the dense, sweet smell of burning wood swirling in the air.
Around the bonfire were some 200 members of the Victoria Iranian-Persian Cultural Society, at Goldstream Provincial Park in Victoria B.C., to celebrate the Chaharshanbe Suri or the “Festival of Fire.”
A tradition from ancient times—observed on the eve of the last Wednesday before the Iranian New Year in March—the festival welcomes a new season of waking up to nature, enlightenment, and happiness.
“For Persians, nature has always been our source of our life. Spring is about new beginnings, rebirth, of plants regrowing,” says Taaj Daliran, president of the society.
The fire, considered as sacred, is central to the celebration. Taaj says people leap over the flames, shouting, “Sorkhi-e to az man (Give me your beautiful red colour)” and “Zardi-e man az to (Take back my sickly pallor)!” It’s a mantra to do away with the soot or dust one has collected over the past year and replace it with the blaze of the burning fire.
On the day of the festival, the community celebrated with music, performances, dancing, and food. “Back in history, the beginning of spring meant working together in the community. Farmers would go from one village to the other to farm and they would not stop until they had finished planting in all,” shares Taaj.
Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, which reached its 40th anniversary this year, Taaj says millions of Iranians have left their home country, in search of a better life elsewhere. “We now have to hold these festivals in several countries around the world. I am happy we in Victoria have kept the tradition alive. It holds a special meaning for us.”
Taaj says his community is working with the provincial government to declare Nowruz, the Persian New Year which has been celebrated for thousands of years in Western Asia, as an official festival in Victoria.
The community, having marked the beginning of summer in June, is now preparing for the celebration in September, this time to mark the harvesting season, similar to Thanksgiving Day in Canada.