. In Iran, the family is the basis of the social structure.
. The concept of family is more private than in many other cultures. Female relatives must be protected from outside influences and are taken care of at all times. It is inappropriate to ask questions about an Iranian's wife or other female relatives.
. Iranians take their responsibilities to their family quite seriously.
. Families tend to be small, only 1 or 2 children, but the extended family is quite close.
. The individual derives a social network and assistance in times of need from the family.
. Elderly relatives are kept at home, not placed in a nursing home.
. Loyalty to the family comes before other social relationship, even business.
. Nepotism is considered a good thing, since it implies that employing people one knows and trusts is of primary importance.
Taarof (Iranian Politeness)
. Taarof is a system of politeness that includes both verbal and non-verbal communication.
. Iranians protest compliments and attempt to appear vulnerable in public.
. They will belittle their own accomplishments in an attempt to appear humble, although other Iranians understand that this is merely courtesy and do not take the words at face value.
. In adherence to taarof, if you are ever offered something, like a tea or sweet, even if you want it, at first decline it until their insistence becomes greater.
Gift Giving Etiquette
. Iranians give gifts at various social occasions such as returning from a trip or if someone achieves a major success in their personal or business life.
. On birthdays, businesspeople bring sweets and cakes to the office and do not expect to receive gifts.
. It is common to give monetary gifts to servants or others who have provided services during the year on Nowruz (The Iranian New Year). Money should be new bank notes or gold coins.
. If you are invited to an Iranian's house, bring flowers, or pastry to the hosts. When giving a gift, always apologize for its inadequacy.
. Gifts should be elegantly wrapped - most shops will wrap them for you.
. Gifts are not generally opened when received. In fact, they may be put on a table and not mentioned.
Most Popular Events and Iranian Culture
Nowruz, in word, means "New Day". It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the spring. Iranians take that as the beginning of the year. This exact second is called "Saal Tahvil". Nowruz with its' uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian (This was the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D).
Iranians consider Nowruz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the New Year, they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), and they buy new clothes. But a major part of New Year rituals is setting the "Haft Seen" with seven specific items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter "S"; this was not the order in ancient times. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice). Zoroastrians today do not have the seven "S"s but they have the ritual of growing seven seeds as a reminder that this is the seventh feast of creation, while their sprouting into new growth symbolized resurrection and eternal life to come.
Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few live gold fish (the most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. Most of the people used to place Quran on their Sofreh (spread) in order to bless the New Year and during "Saal Tahvil" reading some verses from it was popular. After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash and coins), usually the older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets, special meals and "Aajil" (a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet stuff) or fruits are consumed. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with eggs fried or baked, is also served. The next day rice and noodles (Reshteh Polo) is served. Regional variations exist and very colorful feasts are prepared.
The 13th day of the New Year is called "Sizdah Bedar" and spent mostly outdoors. People will leave their homes to go to the parks or local plains for a festive picnic. It is a must to spend Sizdah Bedar in nature. This is called Sizdah Bedar and is the most popular day of the holidays among children because they get to play a lot! Also in this day, people throw the Sabze away, they believe Sabze should not stay in the house after "Sizdah Bedar". Iranians regard 13th day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid misfortunes. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.
Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals. The festival dates back to the time when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism prior to the advent of Islam.
On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.
Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda eve is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light.
Yalda, which means birth, is a Syriac word imported into the Persian language. It is also referred to as Shab-e Chelleh, a celebration of winter solstice on December 21--the last night of fall and the longest night of the year.
Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda.
In addition to Iran, Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and some Caucasian states such as Azerbaijan and Armenia share the same tradition and celebrate Yalda Night annually at this time of the year.
On this night, family members get together (most often in the house of the eldest member) and stay awake all night long. Dried nuts, watermelon and pomegranate are served, as supplications to God for increasing his bounties, as well classic poetry and old mythologies are read aloud.
Iranians believe those who begin winter by eating summer fruits would not fall ill during the cold season. Therefore, eating watermelons is one of the most important traditions in this night.
Pomegranates, placed on top of a fruit basket, are reminders of the cycle of life--the rebirth and revival of generations. The purple outer covering of a pomegranate symbolizes birth or dawn, and their bright red seeds the glow of life.
As days start lengthening, ancient Iranians believe that at the end of the first night of winter which coincides with December 21 this year, darkness is defeated by light and therefore they must celebrate the whole night. As the 13th-century Iranian poet Sa’di writes in his book Boustan: “The true morning will not come until the Yalda Night is gone.”
Early Christians linked this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, goddess of light, and to the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus (PBUH). In birth, sun and Prophet Jesus (PBUH) are close to each other, says one Iranian tale of Yalda.
Today, Christmas is celebrated slightly off from Yalda Night. However, Christmas and Yalda are both celebrated in a similar fashion by staying up all night and celebrating it with family and friends, and eating special foods.
In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the start of the solar year has been marked with the celebration of the victory of light over darkness, and the renewal of the sun. For example, 4,000 years ago, Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year. Their festival lasted for 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in their solar calendar.
The ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia (god of agriculture, Saturn) and Sol Invicta (sun god) are amongst the best known celebrations in the western world.
Iranians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their
Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest night of the year, when the forces of evil are assumed to be at the peak of their strength.
The next day, which is the first day of the month ‘Dey’ known as ‘khorram rooz’ or ‘khore rooz’ (the day of the sun), belongs to Ahura Mazda, the lord of wisdom. Since days become longer and nights shorter, this day marks the victory of the sun over darkness. The occasion was celebrated as the festival of ‘Deygan’, which is dedicated to Ahura Mazda on the first day of ‘Dey’.
Fires would be burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of evil. There would be feasts, acts of charity and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of sun--essential for the protection of winter crops. There would be prayers to Mithra (Mehr) and feasts in his honor, since Mithra is the Eyzad responsible for protecting “the light of the early morning”, known as ‘Havangah’. It was also assumed that Ahura Mazda would grant people’s wishes, especially those desiring an offspring if all rites are performed on this occasion.
One of the themes of the festival was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and servants reversed roles. The king dressed in white would change place with ordinary people. A mock king was crowned and masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed. This tradition persisted till the Sassanian rule and is mentioned by Birouni, the eminent scientist and traveler, and others in their recordings of pre-Islamic rituals and festivals.
Its origin dates back to the Babylonian New Year celebration. They believed that the first creation was order, which was born out of chaos. To appreciate and celebrate the first creation, they held a festival and all roles were reversed. Disorder and chaos ruled for a day and eventually order was restored at the end of the festival.
The Iranian Jews, who are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the country, in addition to Shab-e Chelleh, also celebrate the festival of Illanout (tree festival) at around the same time.
The celebration of Illanout is very similar to Shab-e Chelleh’s. Candles are lit and a variety of dried and fresh winter fruits are eaten. Special meals are prepared and prayers are performed. There are also festivals in parts of southern Russia, which are identical to Shab-e Chelleh with local variations. Sweet bread is baked in the shape of humans and animals. Bonfires are lit, around which people danced and made movements resembling crop harvesting.
Comparisons and detailed studies of all these celebrations will shed more light on the forgotten aspects of this wonderful and ancient festival, where merriment was the main theme of the festival.
One of the other traditions of Yalda night, which has been added in recent centuries, is the recitation of the classic poetry of Hafez, the Iranian poet of 14th century AD. Each member of the family makes a wish and randomly opens the book and asks the eldest member of the family to read it aloud. What is expressed in that poem is believed to be the interpretation of the wish and whether and how it will come true. This is called Faal-e Hafez (Hafez Omen).
Coinciding with the beginning of the winter, Yalda is an occasion to celebrate the end of the crop season. It is today an event to thank the Lord for all blessings and to pray for
Moharram, Ashura Ceremony and Ta’ziyeh in Iranian Culture
Shia’s express their sorrow and respect and love and humbleness for Imam Hussain in many different ways, most wear black and cry in the gatherings for Imam Hussain after the historical events of Karbala. It was an event that shocked Muslims. It had been foretold by Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) decades before its occurrence. Thus, ever since the tragedy of Karbala in 61 AH, corresponding to 680 of the Christian calendar, the faithful have commemorated the sufferings of the Prophet's Household with the life-inspiring mourning ceremonies as was the legacy of the Imam's sister, Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) and the Imam's son and successor Imam Zain al-Abedin (PBUH), whose tears never ran dry. Mourning is something natural and is part of human sentiments and the greater the magnitude of a tragedy the greater its impact on succeeding generations and the more grand the commemoration of such ceremonies. It is natural for a person in grief to beat his chest and cry, because natural sentiments cannot be suppressed, especially for a person or a household considered as the doyen of faith, and on whose intercession in the Hereafter depends human salvation. In view of these undeniable facts, mourning for the martyrs of Karbala evolved into an organized ritual, first in Iraq and the Hejaz and later in Iran, from where it spread to other lands. With the taking over of Baghdad in 945 AD, that is 265 years after the tragedy of Karbala, by the Iranian general, Moez od-Dowlah Daylami, the 10th of Moharram or the anniversary of the epic of Ashura, was for the first time declared a public holiday. From that year onwards the ritual mourning for the Martyrs of Karbala became official and have continued to this day interacting with all sections of the society and inspiring the people to strengthen their faith in God, strive for justice and stand steadfast against tyrants and oppressors even at the risk of life.
Iranians have been known for their special attachment to the Prophet and his blessed household, the Ahl al-Bayt. As a matter of fact, among the prominent companions of the Prophet was Salman al-Farsi or Salman the Persian, regarding whom the Prophet had said: Salman is from us the Ahl al-Bayt. Later as Islam came to Persia and the Iranians fed up with centuries of tyranny by the Sassanid rulers, embraced Islam in multitudes, the Iranian Plateau rapidly became the cradle of the glorious Islamic civilization. The Iranians were quick to discern that the genuine tenets of Islam were those advocated by the Prophet's divinely-ordained vicegerent, Imam Ali (PBUH), the father of Imam Husain (PBUH). These bonds grew with the marriage of Imam Husain (PBUH) to Princess Shahrbano of Persia. These were not mere emotional ties, but were ties of faith and belief, with the firm conviction that salvation in Islam lay only at the threshold of the Prophet and his Ahl al-Bayt. For this reason, the tragic martyrdom of Imam Husain (PBUH), which shocked faithful Arab Muslims in Iraq, Hejaz and the Yemen, and led to uprisings, had a profound effect on Iranians. Within three or four years after the Tragedy of Karbala, 4000 Arab Muslims of Iraq calling themselves Tawwabeen or the Penitents, rose under the leadership Sulayman bin Sorod al-Khazaie against the Godless Omayyad regime. They first marched to Karbala and for three days wept at the grave of the Prophet's martyred grandson. Simultaneously, another Arab chieftain, Mokhtar ibn Abu Obayda Saqafi staged his uprising to avenge the blood of Imam Husain (PBUH). He was joined by many Iranians of Iraq known as Mawali.
The rallying cry of all these uprisings, revolutions, and reformative movements, from North Africa to Khorasan was Imam Husain (PBUH) and the tragedy of Karbala. However, in Iraq and Iran, the sentiments were much more pronounced as could be seen throughout history for justice and refusal to bow to the oppressors. In different eras, these mourning ceremonies, which cannot be compared to anything anywhere throughout the world, saw the Daylamites, the Sarbedaraan, the Safavids and last but not the least, the glorious Islamic Revolution of Iran under Imam Khomeini, triumph against heavy odds because of people's faith and a sign of their expression of affection towards the Prophet and the Blessed Household. In these very days, 29 years ago, leading to the overthrow of the British-installed and US supported Pahlavi dynasty, the people of Iran, with their elaborate mourning rituals for the Martyrs of Karbala, enacted history. Later, when the US imposed the destructive war on the Islamic Republic through Saddam, it was again Imam Husain (PBUH) and the life-inspiring mourning rituals for the Martyrs of Karbala that inspired the Iranian nation enact epic during 8 years of Sacred Defense to defeat an aggressor, who was backed by almost the whole world. Today also, as could be observed in the discourses that are held in Moharram, it is these mourning rituals and the immortal stand of Imam Husain (PBUH) for justice and against oppression that inspires the Iranian nation to pursue its inalienable rights to master science and technology without yielding to the unjust and illegal demands of Global Arrogance.
More or less similar ceremonies in Moharram could be observed in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Bahrain, India, parts of Africa and recently in the eastern oil-rich coast of Saudi Arabia. The participation of people from different sections of the society and the urge to cooperate, and vie with one another for promoting these ceremonies through donation are the dominant features of Moharram and the next month of Safar. At these ceremonies, speakers who expound on the genuine teachings of Islam in order to polish the ingredients of faith, and reciters of the tragic events who appeal to emotions as well as the intellect, arouse in the audience the spirit to defend justice and humanitarian values against oppression and exploitation. The epic of Ashura has evolved into a culture in various lands, especially in Iran, where it has influenced art, industry, academic pursuit, trade, science and technology. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, these glorious mourning ceremonies are part of social life. Art experts believe that art is one of the most beautiful human inventions and once mankind is involved in pains and grieves, art comes to the help in different forms and brings peace and tranquility. The Ashura tragedy is unique. It has given birth to Ta'ziyeh plays in Iran and Iraq that depicts the sacrifice of the Imam Husain and his 72 loyal and steadfast companions who refused to be tempted by the enemy's offer of posts and amnesty, and gladly drank the elixir of martyrdom for the supreme cause. Ta'ziyeh has given a tragic but distinct flavour to Iranian literature and culture that stands ethically superior to the so-called ancient Greek tragedies. Ta'ziyeh, like all other rituals of Moharram, draws a distinct line between good and evil, and truth and falsehood.
Music along with text has been the most important means for creating coordination among the organizers of the ceremonies.
It has even given birth to doleful music in Iran, unmatched anywhere else in the world.