This morning my roommate Azadeh got an email from her father:
“Don't forget to jump over fire tonight. Love, Dad”
Lest ye be under the mistaken impression that the only holidays that exist are those alloted careful space on Hallmark shelves, let me welcome you to Persian New Year. For all the negative press Middle Easterners get, you think we'd get a teensy bit of recognition for the creative spark to our holidays. Last night was Char Shanbeh Soori, involving good food, jumping over fire (or carrying old people over fire, which rivals Chapelle's Show in hilarity), and friends. No presents, just good people and maybe some dancing if you're one of the 5,000 Iranians to crowd onto the beach of Mission Bay.
With age, I've broadened my appreciation of Persian holidays. Rewind. I grew up, indeed, I think all three of us Ghahremani offspring did, with the mistaken impression that we were Christian Persians. We lived in a Jewish suburb of Chicago. For December arts and crafts you did red and green or you did blue and white. I went with red and green and called it a day. My sister explored more, going through a brief period of exploring Judaism, tacking a homemade Star of David on her door and issuing my mom a stern warning: “don't CHOUCH it!” As teenagedom took over, that was replaced with a “stay out” type of sign and she expanded her talents beyond construction paper — but that's another story for another day.
In any case, like I said, Santa was the man. I tried to ignore my dismay that so many of my friends had oh so many nights of gifts coming their way and did my best to loot at Christmas, before jetting to an exotic warm destinations (“Reaganomics worked for me!”). However we had one secret in our pockets: Right around March 21st, Mom would call us in sick for the day, citing family obligations. (For many children, duping their teachers in this way was gift enough.) And hey, any family where staying home on a school day and dressing up in new clothes and eating til you're sick and then ceremonially accepting wads of freshly printed cash from family friends is a family I want to be part of.
A few days before my “sick day”, I would break the news to the lunch table. My American friends leaned in closer.
“You get *what*?”
I'd beam back the free advertising smile of the daughter of a dentist. “Yup, money.”
“Like how much?”
But it didn't really. My parents were always extremely generous. Once in awhile there was a gift. Like the year my dad got into the spirit and bought me a 'ghettoblaster' and taught me how to dub tapes. Most often it was crisp cash tucked within the pages of the Quran. God help me escape the association between Quran pages and Benjamin Franklin's face on a sheet of green. Sometimes I think they amortized the compensation for Iranian-hostage-crisis-related-trauma over the course of the years, paying their children in installments. As we gathered around the haft-seen to take pictures, images of my forthcoming trip to loot Musicland danced in my head.
So last night my friends and I jumped over a fire (Persian Social Code Section 1.1: Always listen to your parents!), symbolically giving it our weakness and taking its vibrant heat. On Sunday morning, the actual New Year (vernal equinox/the first day of spring), my family will awaken and dutifully dress in new clothing from the skin out and stand around our haft-seen at 4:34 in the morning. The haft-seen will be a notch more elaborate than last year, and the lilac plants will make me sneeze as much as I will have the evening before — courtesy of Persian men self-doused in cologne for the cultural society's party (query: why use ether when you can use Drakkar?). We'll smile for the camera. My parents will vigorously snap shots of the endangered specie Son-In-Suit-and-Tie, and we'll each critique the photos before deleting and retaking in an incessant cycle (because we expect somehow to look GOOD in these photos at 5am).
In the dawn light, we'll each silently make wishes on the year to come. Some of us will wish for world peace. Others will wish for new and exciting people in our lives. One family member may wish for a strong stock market (hi Dad!). Others yet will wish for all the hoopla to be over so they can return to bed. Then, a moment late (and thus right on schedule), my mom will remind us that we should have held coins as the year changed for good luck and fortune, launching yet another year of cheerful poverty for their artsy children 🙂
Ritual complete, family and guests will slink back to their rooms. Then I might make a quick return to slip a few more pieces of the baklava, but there will be no witnesses to my crime. As I wander back down the hallway to my own room, I don't know what will go through my mind. What I do know is that part of me will be very very glad that there is no construction paper that comes close to capturing the colors of this holiday.
Lilly Ghahremani is an attorney/literary agent and owner of Full Circle Literary, LLC, based in California. She is actively seeking new voices in fiction, nonfiction and childrens books, with an emphasis on multicultural literature. Please visit fullcircleliterary.com for more information.
……………….. Peef Paff spam!