Iranians are expressing outrage on social media over the renaming of two beloved pre-Islamic festivals, viewed as an attempt to erode "ancient Iranian culture."
This week, Iranian media reported that the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SCCR) has chosen to rename certain events on the official calendar of the Islamic Republic, including the festivals of Yalda and Charshanbeh Souri, both of which predate the Islamization of Iran in the 6th century AD.
The Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, comprising several appointees of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is tasked with neutralizing external cultural influences and ideologies, particularly Western, and ensuring that education and culture align with Islamic values.
Social media users vow to celebrate the two festivals "with even more splendor" in defiance of the regime. They have also shared numerous jokes about the lengthy and irrelevant new names assigned to their cherished festivals.
They have also highlighted the regime's past attempts to erase the country's history by renaming numerous streets, buildings, and even cities and provinces, like Shahi and Kermanshah, often due to their association with the monarchy and the deposed royal family. However, most people have persisted in using the old names until now.
"At the end of the day, we will still call these occasions Yalda night and Charshanbeh Souri. Are they going to install CCTV and bring in their plainclothesmen to our homes to make sure we are not doing so?" one of the many tweets about the renaming of festivals said, reflecting the sentiment surrounding the renaming of the festivals.
For over four decades since the early years of the Islamic Revolution, the religious establishment and Islamic revolutionaries have opposed the celebration of ancient festivals, including Nowruz (Persian New Year). Instead, they have sought to substitute them with Islamic calendar events such as Eid al-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, Mab’ath (the beginning of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission), and the birthdays of the Prophet and Shiite Imams.
Most Iranians, even many religious families, however, have not forsaken their beloved ancient festivals and continue to celebrate them alongside religious occasions.
The first of the two festivals renamed by the Council, Yalda, also known as Chelleh Night, traditionally takes place on the longest and darkest night of the year.
This Winter Solstice festival has been observed by Iranian peoples and others in the region since ancient times. People come together at home to enjoy special foods, play music, read poetry, tell fortunes, and engage in various customs that vary across regions.
The SCCR has now renamed the day as the "Day of Promotion of the Culture of Hosting and Connecting with Relatives."
The second festival, Charshanbeh Souri, celebrated on the evening of the last Tuesday of the year just before the Nowruz holiday on March 21, involves similar customs of food, music, fortune-telling, poetry recitation, and the distinctive tradition of lighting small bonfires on the streets and jumping over them.
The hardliner religious establishment, in particular, strongly disapproves of the practice of lighting fires during Charshanbeh Souri. To them, this act evokes memories of the pre-Islamic religion of Iran, Zoroastrianism, where the lighting and tending of fire played a significant role in worship rituals. They view this association with fire as a form of paganism and consider it as "worshipping of fire."
The Council has decided to rename Charshanbeh Souri as “Day of Honouring Neighbors”.
Sizdah-be-dar, celebrated on the 13th day of the Persian calendar (April 1/2), is another ancient festival with uncertain origins cherished and observed by most Iranians, despite disapproval from the religious establishment. This festival, during which everyone leaves their homes to picnic in the open air, was renamed "Nature Day" years ago.
The public's reaction to the renaming of the two festivals was so strong that the Council's spokesman, Abbas Mirza Hosseini, had to deny the removal of the names of ancient festivals from the official calendar. He claimed that the new names were only complementary and emphasized the "national identity and Islamic-Iranian culture and civilization."