Where Chaharshanbe-Suri meets Jaanipäev – Ana (Iran)

As an Iranian born into a family that paid a lot of attention to celebrating every single occasion to the fullest, moving abroad was equal to missing out on everything to me. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the Estonian culture and traditions at the time, so it was basically like stepping into the unknown.

This feeling of missing out and the urge to go back home went on for almost a year when I had already left Nowruz (Persian New Year) behind, and the truth is a part of me was still quite upset for being so far away on such a day for the very first time. But somehow, everything took a different turn when I got to know about Jaanipäev. Until then, I always wondered whether someone could get integrated into a culture so different from their own. I was so focused on all the differences that the possible similarities just never even occurred to me! 

Now one might wonder how a Baltic tradition may be connected to the Middle-East so here is a crash course of history:
Jaanipäev is one of the most remarkable celebrations in Estonia, in which people gather to enjoy the longest day of the year together by lighting bonfires, dancing, and singing. 

Jaanipäev 2021, Tartu

And then, there is Chaharshanbe-Suri! Chaharshanbe-Suri (Festive Wednesday) is an Iranian festival celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year, which equals the last Tuesday of winter in our calendar. The main motive behind this authentic tradition is to celebrate good health and purity; therefore, people gather with their family and friends to honor the ending of the year and the beginning of another. The highlights of Chaharshanbe-Suri, for me, have always been the fireworks and bonfires. Huge bonfires are set up in every street, and people jump over multiple in a row saying “ Zardi-e man az to, Sorkhi-ye to az man” meaning “may my paleness be yours, and your redness mine” as the redness of the fire symbolizes good health. A similar belief is widespread in Estonia too. On Jaanipäev, they also jump over the fire as a symbol of prosperity and to avoid bad luck.

Chaharshanbe-Suri holds many other traditions, such as Qashoq Zani, which is in a way similar to trick-or-treat. People go door-to-door in their neighborhood and hit spoons against their bowls to receive chocolate, sweets, and Ajeel, which is a mix of sweet and sour nuts and dried fruits, and it is said to bring good luck.

Over the years, many families have developed their unique way of embracing this day and have come up with their own traditions. For instance, in my family, we tend to spend the whole night outside to watch fireworks, light up lanterns, and jump over the fire. Personally, the most enjoyable part of the night for me is the dinner. It’s always a set combination of various dishes cooked only once a year, on this day! 

Chaharshanbe-Suri 2017, Tehran

Jaanipäev also brought out these same emotions in me. Even though they take place in two very distinct countries at two different seasons, they are still connected enough to evoke that same old homely feeling, and that’s the beauty of exploring a new country and a new culture! Sometimes you manage to find glimpses of home in small details, no matter how far away.

If you want to read more about Jaanipäaev and Chaharshanbe-Suri, you can also take a look at these articles:

  1. https://estonianworld.com/life/it-is-this-time-of-the-year-again-jaanipaev/
  2. https://surfiran.com/chaharshanbe-suri/

All pictures belong to the author.