Ceremonies in Iran

Traditional Ceremonies: Wedding Party

Traditional Ceremonies: Wedding Party


Like in any other cultures, since very ancient times, Iranians have also had special occasions to celebrate and revive traditions. Feasts are not necessarily happy gatherings. At times, people gather together to commemorate and honor an event a person, etc.

The Categorization of Feasts in Iran

Here is a categorization of the gatherings in Iran:

  1. Ancient, Mythical and seasonal feasts;
  2. Religious feasts;
  3. National and Governmental feasts;
  4. Family feats; and,
  5. Regional feasts.

The most commonly celebrated feasts, at present, in Iran are briefly introduced here.

Since ancient times, many feasts were accompanied by myths or legends as their sources of origination like Nowruz, Tirgan, Mehrgan, Yalda and Sadeh.

Some Ceremonies in Iran


When the Sun reaches the vernal equinox on the meridian, the 20th or 21st of March, days and nights are approximately equal. This very same day has long been called Nowruz (“now” means new and “ruz” means day). Since thousands of years ago, Iranians knew this and regarded it as the first day of the New Year in Iranian solar calendar.

The first mythical king, Jamshid, is said to have celebrated this occasion as the beginning of his establishing justice and defeating demons.

To celebrate Nowruz, there are some preparatory traditions observed by Iranians like: last Wednesday feast (firecrackers, etc), deceased day and the last Thursday (Honoring the Deceased in the cemeteries, etc), khaneh tekany (house cleaning, etc), cereal planting, haftseen (special combination of symbolic stuff at everyone’s home), new clothes, Nowruz dishes, visiting each other, the first Nowruz, its presents, its post cards, Sizdah-Beh-Dar (national day for picnicking) and so forth.


At the evening of the 12th day of the fourth month of their own calendar (Tir), the 2nd or 3rd of July, people in Mazandaran province celebrate Tirgan. Tir means arrow and Titgan refers to the occasion when Arash, the legendary bowman, shot an arrow to indicate the borderline between Iran and Turan. Arash lost his entire energy and died afterward. The feast includes many traditions like plays, poem reading, singing, eating, drinking, etc.


Mehr is the 7th month of Iranian calendar, app Sept 21st to Oct 20th, and the name of the goddess of the Sun. At this harvest time, Zoroastrian people in Kerman celebrate the occasion by sacrificing a sheep or a chicken and honor it by feasting, etc.

Yalda (Chelleh)

It is the longest night of the year, the 21st or 22nd of September, and as some believe, the birthday of Mehr the undefeatable. They said at the end of this night, darkness is defeated and light gains victory. It is also the day of harvesting crops and the beginning of farmers’ rest period.

People gather together in the house of the eldest member of the entire family enjoying themselves eating summer fruits as well as nuts. They also read poems of Hafez and have a lot of chat.


It means emergence and refers to forty days after the birth of Mehr, 10th of Bahman (Jan 29th or 30th). People celebrate this occasion by setting huge fire outside some cities that, of course, can be interpreted differently. It is not celebrated by the whole nation nowadays.

Sadeh is a very ancient non-religious celebratory occasion during which all religions take part in the feast, have a special soup, and eat nuts and fruits. They all wear colorful clothes and make-ups and enjoy themselves.


It is a pilgrimage site for the Zoroastrians from all around the world who gather together at the 62km northeast of Yazd at the heart of desert once a year in the 21st or 22nd of June.

During their stay there, they go two or three times to the temple with their heads covered. They burn candles, pray, vow, wear special white dresses and bands around their waists. Votive soup and bread are served for everyone in addition to other foodstuff.

It is also a time for renewing the meetings, entertaining, water sprinkling, etc. Note that water sprinkling is customary in different parts of Iran during Nowruz or other feasts.

Qara Kelisa

It is a famous ancient church near Maku, West Azerbaijan province in Iran. Qara Kelisa or Tade’oos church is a pilgrimage site for the Armenians who go there as groups or families after mid August each year.

They stay there at least for three days of feasting, praying, singing in choir, entertaining, dancing, horse/mule/donkey ridding, etc.

Armenians who converted to Christianity in 300 were an ethnic group within the Iranian empire and Tade’oos is said to have been Jesus disciple who was evangelizing, was martyred and buried there. Later, this church was built at his burial place.

Carpet Washing in Mashad-e-Ardehal

To commemorate the martyrdom of one the descendants of the 5th Imam of Shiite Twelvers, people around Ardehal and Kashan perform a special ceremony once a year. It includes washing the carpet of his mausoleum in the spring nearby to commemorate the event during which the dead body was wrapped in a carpet and later the carpet was washed there.

During the ceremony, people also damn his enemies who murdered him and wave clubs up in the air to show their feeling of hatred toward his enemies. The feast includes going on picnic, shopping, etc. But it is a very unique feast because of its peculiar ceremonies.

Other Sites & Rites

There are thousands of tombs in Iran in which the descendants of Imams are buried. That is why there are called Imamzadeh (born of Imam). They are pilgrimage sites for Shiites, both local and non-local people. Some of the buildings of these tombs are very old, for example, 800 year old.

In each area of Iran, various ethnic and religious groups are living at the same neighborhood. Therefore, there can be found different varieties of the same feasts or different local ones.

Shovel Turning Ceremonies (Bilgardani) at Nimvar




An athlete participating in “Shovel Turning” Ceremonies in Nimvar

People of Nimvar, near Mahalat, central Iran, still keep shovel turning ceremonies to cherish water and thank Anahita, the ancient goddess of water. “Bil” is shovel and “gardani” means turning in Persian. It symbolizes the joint effort and empathy among the people living in a community carried out every year at the beginning of the spring. This rain prayer ceremony in Iran is deeply rooted in irrigation culture and showing off the power to the enemies, those who steal the water, etc. In addition, Nimvar inhabitants believe they gain more water and blessing if they continue to keep observing it.

I must add that Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization has registered this tradition as “National Intangible Cultural Heritage” and every year more people are learning about this local annual festivity and participate in it.

How Shovel Turning Ceremonies Are Held

Late winter and early spring are the time periods when the local people and farmers go out to Shajoob, the main river of Nimvar. They unblock the water brooks anywhere the course of water is clogged by mud or wild grass. This is to make sure water reaches its destination. When water gets to the main sub-branch leading to a brook called “Vargoo”, the bilgardani ceremonies begin. Therefore, farmers can achieve their goals to irrigate their farms and be certain they would get the crops they’ve planted for.

Nimvar people marching to start Bilgardani Ceremonies

Nimvar people marching to start Bilgardani Ceremonies


When the elders of the town announce it’s time to clear the brooks off the obstacles, people collaborate to let water flow all the way to the farms. When this stage is left behind and the farms are irrigated, farmers and athletes of the region begin to go to the ceremonies location where a large crowd participates to watch it.

The festivity goes on for several days. Every day, farmers march with their shovels to the ceremonies location, which is at the center of Nimvar on a platform. The athletes of the region bring two sets of shovels tied in a bunch of 4 and 3 tied together separately. Now an athlete can go to the middle of the gathering and hold each set in one hand and start turning shovels. This requires a lot of physical strength and skill, which is something only the trained ones can do.

Each bunch of shovels could weight approximately 30 kg. Athletes are supposed to turn them from 5 to 30 times around their heads in opposite directions. During this time, people begin to pray for rain, the heavenly blessing. This involves the wish for the seven skies to start moving around and let the rain come down upon the area where they live. They want the divine mercy in form of rain for their farms as their lives depend on the crops they harvest each year.

Performing shovel turning on Nimvar platform for the spectators

Performing shovel turning on Nimvar platform for the spectators

The History of Shovel Turning Ceremonies

The people of Nimvar used to hold this public ritual of Bilgardani since 2000 years ago in central Iran. In addition to asking for heavenly blessing, they took the opportunity to show their physical strength to their enemies so that they could remain in peace without any outside threat to their peaceful lives. Also, this is a rain prayer ceremony in Iran out of several held in various parts of Iran.

Some also analyze this event as an example of ancient people’s encounter with natural challenges. People have always tried to tackle the obstacles in nature and in life reach to their goals. In doing so, some efforts have turned into traditions and accompanied by certain ceremonies. This is another example of such efforts by ancient Iranians.

Today’s Ceremonies

I know the following video isn’t in English, but imagine you’ve traveled to Iran and participated in a 15-minutes bilgardani gathering in which English isn’t spoken. Just go through the entire clip and see which activities it involves:

Iran isn’t the only ancient country in the world holding such ceremonies. You can find similar ones in other parts of the world too. What happens in Iran these days, is a lot more organized than the old times. Certain types of local food and soup are cooked and served. Traditional local music is played and people enjoy watching and listening to it. Sometimes, particular water-related plays are performed.

All this is a reminder of the importance of water and its vital role in today’s life. No matter how advanced we are, water is always a necessity and resources are scarce. All of us need to think twice about our models of water consumption. Industries need to think again about how they use water to reach their goals. What do you think about our usage of water today?

Celebrating Yalda Night in Iran a Joyful Family Gathering




Iranians have celebrated Yalda night in Iran since ancient times. Dating back to about 8000 years ago, this festivity, making the longest night of the year, is one of the ancient Iranian traditions. This night is called Shab-e Yalda (Yalda night) and is the time between the last day of fall and the first day of winter.

People in ancient times knew that from the first day of winter on, days get longer and nights get shorter gradually. What’s more, they knew darkness as a symbol of evil. So, in fact, they considered the first morning after Yalda the day of victory of the sun and light over darkness and evil powers and celebrated it at this festival.

Shab-e Chelleh (the night of forty) is the other name of Yalda night in Iran. It’s called so because it’s the first day of a forty-day period in winter. In terms of Persian traditional calendar, it’s a period of time beginning from December 22nd and ending on January 30th. The last four days of this Chelleh are supposed to be the coldest days of winter.

Customs and Traditions of Yalda Night in Iran

In most parts of Persia, the extended family, relatives and friends gather around and stay up late till dawn, enjoying the night. People were advised to do it because it was believed that evil powers were at their peak at that time, and in this way they would be protected against evil and misfortune.

In most of these gatherings, the family and relatives visit grandparents and spend the night with them. A variety of fruits, sweets, and nuts alongside tea and sherbet are served at this occasion. The guests enjoy a fine dinner and after that the elders entertain the others by telling them tales and anecdotes. Reading Shahnameh and divining by Divan of Hafez are the other favorite and common pastimes of this ancient Iranian tradition.

Another practice which is prevalent in some areas is what a young engaged man is supposed to do. He sends seven kinds of fruits and a variety of gifts to his fiancée at this night. Sometimes, the girl and her family also try to provide some gifts for the young man in return for the favor.

Decorating and lighting the houses and yards with candles were also fascinating customs at Yalda night in Iran. Although it was done before invention of electricity, it’s still common in some areas due to the glamorous view created.

Foods and Drinks, the Central Part of This Ancient Iranian Tradition

Among all the edibles, the following are more common to be served at Yalda:

  • Fruits: watermelons, pomegranates, red apples, pears, persimmons, and cooked beets.

The first three items are the most important ones. In pre-Islam period, when Mithraism was practiced by Persians, red color was a symbol of the sun due to associating the color of dawn. So, it can be the color of these fruits that makes them the integral parts of this tradition.

It’s also believed that eating watermelons at Yalda protects individuals from the excessive heat or any disease caused by the hot weather of summer.

  • Ajil: a combination of nuts most commonly such as pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, in addition to raisins, dried apricots or other fruits, figs, and roasted seeds of watermelon and pumpkin. The nuts can be roasted or raw to be mixed.
  • Beverages: usually tea and a variety of sherbets. And if there is snow, a mixture of snow and grape extract can be refreshing and memorable eating experience for you at Yalda night in Iran.
  • The main meal for dinner: rice and fish if possible, otherwise, one of the local foods depending on each city or region.

Celebrating the beginning of winter is not something happening just in Iran. There are some other areas like Pakistan, Japan, China, Korea, Philippine, Thailand, Vietnam, Scotland, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Bahamas, Jamaica, Carolina and Virginia, Russia, etc. which hold such a ceremony. All of them welcome winter and celebrate this night according to their own traditions.