Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Give Me Your Red!
By Sahar Muradi


This post is brought to you by guest blogger, Kayhan Irani, an artivist and an Emmy award winning writer. She believes in the liberatory power of the arts to deepen people’s engagement with social issues and transform society. She is a writer, director, performer, and facilitator.

Photo by Sahar Muradi

“I give you my Yellow;

Give me your Red!”

“I give you my Yellow;

Give me your Red!”

Tonight, I was shouting this out loud as I jumped, back and forth, over a bonfire at the La Plaza Cultural Community Garden in the East Village.  It is Chahar Shanbe Suri – the Wednesday before Persian New Year - and jumping over the fire is an important part of the celebrations.  You are speaking to the fire; having an exchange, and as you vocalize those words you remember that connection to Mother earth.  We are on the earth and of the earth.

Norooz (New Year) means New Day in Farsi and is celebrated throughout West, Central and South Asia.  It’s a pre-Islamic holiday started by Zoroastrians somewhere between 1200 – 550 B.C.E. Norooz is the return of the light – warmth, growth, newness: the spring.

On Chahar Shanbe Suri it’s time to revive our inner light.  Symbolically we are shedding our fears, we are melting away the rigidity that has set in, we are softening our judgment of ourselves and others. … “I give you my Yellow!”

The red of the fire is re-igniting our vitality our enthusiasm for life.  We are firing up those places that may have dimmed or gotten smothered by the daily grind.  The red is not just a life raft, it is a motor boat! … “You give me your Red!”

Coming out of the winter, I am re-invigorating my Theater of the Oppressed work.  This weekend I’m am presenting at the Left Forum, next weekend I’m leading a workshop, and I’m planning a series of workshops in Atlanta and Detroit in the coming months.  Read about all my events here.

Where are you holding onto fear?  Do you have a buried hope?  Today is the day!  Dig it out, set it on fire, and shoot off into the stratosphere!

Norooz Mubarak!  Happy New Year!

~ Kayhan


Photo by Sahar Muradi

Below are a few clips from the event.  And further down, more info on the festival.

I leapt with a sprained foot and my friend G, who came with a pounding heartbreak.  We sprung in circles, dropping along the way, little hand-scrawled notes of fears and obstacles and old haunts we leave with last year.  Welcome Spring!


Chaharshanbeh Soori intro

Chaharshanbeh Soori leaping

Chaharshanbeh Soori song

From La Plaza Cultural’s event flyer / by Simin Farkhondeh:

Chah ā rshanbe-S ū ri is the ancient festival dating to Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian past, circa 2500 BC. The festival of fire is a prelude to the ancient Norouz (Persian New Year) festival, which marks the arrival of spring and revival of nature. On the last Tuesday of the Zoroastrian year, just before the Spring Equinox (March 20, 2011), bonfires are list in the streets of Iran and people jump through them, to exorcise the old year and its misfortunes and bring about the regeneration of the world.

The word Chahar Shanbeh means Wednesdays and Suri means red. The bonfires are lit at sunset to keep the sun alive till early hours of the morning. From among the Zoroastrian festivals some of the most important ones pertained to fire, a symbol of good health, cultivation, light and purity.

Traditionally while jumping over the fire the following phrases are sung: “Sorkhi-e to az man/Zardi-e man az to”, literally, “Give me your beautiful red color and take back my sickly pallor!” It is believed that the purification ritual guarantees the dissipation of misfortunes and evils, and the materialization of people’s hopes and desires for the next year.

It is believed that the living were visited by the spirits of their ancestors on the last Wednesday of the year. During this night, Gashog-Zani is done where people, especially children, wrap themselves in shrouds symbolically re-enacting the visits of the spirits. By the light of the bonfire, they run through the streets banging on pots and pans with spoons called to beat out the last unlucky Wednesday of the year, while they knock on doors to ask for treats. It is customary to offer Ajeel, a special ‘mixed nuts and berries’ to people. Halloween is a Celtic variation of this night.

The celebration usually starts at sun down, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over them. The human has to face her ultimate fears and does so by jumping over the fire. That cleansing act is necessary before the advent of spring and the Vernal Equinox.

In Iran, Chaharshanbeh Soori serves as a cultural festival for Persians, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Kurds, Turks and Zoroastrians alike. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Chaharshanbeh Soori has become a day of resistrance throughout Iran. The government has tried unsuccessfully to ban this event, but Iranians continue to celebrate it throughout Iran.

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