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Southern California Voices / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY
ISSUES

Multicultural Manners : Iranian New Year Ritual Misfires

March 14, 1994|NORINE DRESSER | Norine Dresser is a folklorist and author of "I Felt Like I Was From Another Planet," (Addison Wesley). Tell her your experiences c/o Voices.

Dolores Smithson is an active member of the Neighborhood Watch in her suburban community. One day she panics when she looks out in the street and sees the teen-age sons of her newly arrived Iranian neighbors jumping over seven piles of burning brush. Laughter and high spirits prevail for the boys but not for Smithson. She dials 911. The fire department puts out the fires and police take the boys into custody. However, the case is dismissed after a judge orders the family to pay a fine and warns the boys to never do this again.

What went wrong?

Smithson's teen-age neighbors were jumping over the fires as part of a purification ritual before the start of Iranian New Year. Iranian New Year, or Nouruz , begins March 21, the first day of spring. One of the features of this 13-day celebration is a ritual meal with seven dishes that begin with the letter "S" in the Iranian language--including garlic, a wheat pudding and a bowl adorned with goldfish. On the last day, it is considered bad luck to stay indoors, so they often participate in special picnic events.

Like Smithson's neighbors, many Iranians transplanted to America discover that because of strict fire codes they cannot build fires in urban areas, even for ceremonial purposes. Consequently, Iranians in Southern California often go to beaches where fires are allowed and jump over them in safe settings.

Rule: Check local laws before engaging in home-country rituals.

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