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V. Culture & Custom

Iranian Culture's roots are spread throughout its history; the Achaemenids, the Sasanians, the Arab’s occupation, the Mongols invade and the Safavids beside of Iran's dry climate all formed below characteristics for Iranian culture:

  • Persian Literacy and Persian Poem
  • National Festivals such as Noruz and Yalde
  • Persian solar Calendar
  • Shiite branch
  • Religious minorities as Zoroastrianism and Baha’ism
  • Kurd and Azeri’s culture
  • Persian Architecture
  • Persian Cuisine
  • Scared & Conservative mentality

As the most of theses aspects are described in other posts, below section is consist of much engaging aspects of Persian’s encounter for tourists:


Hospitality is major feature of Iranian people; they are famous as warm, friendly and generous people with a strong interest in foreigners and other cultures as you should experience it by yourself. Instead of portrayals I make room for a quote from Pierre Flener’s website:

“From: Kalia (kalia@sludge.phys.nwu.edu)

Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia

Subject: notes on trip to Iran, 8/98

Date: September 1998

My significant other (SO) and I, both US citizens, travelled to Shiraz, Isfahan and Tehran in August 1998.  Here are some random observations regarding the trip.  I have not attempted to write a comprehensive trip report or travel guide; in particular, I have not repeated information already in the 1998 Lonely Planet book or in guide.

. . .


I was born in India, and I had been warned by an expatriate Iranian not to expect quite as much hospitality as a 'real' American such as SO might receive.  Well, in fact Iranians were very nice to us without exception.  I saw little aggressive nosiness, for example the type you see in India ("What's your salary?"); but when the opportunity arose, everyone took the opportunity to make us feel welcome.  In Shiraz, a store owner spoke fluent Urdu to me. At the Cheragh shrine, where chadors are required, they were being lent without charge and without a deposit at the bookstore, and a male store clerk took the time to tell SO about the churches she could visit in Shiraz (she did not admit to lack of religious belief).  At Pasargadae, the guard poured us tea and put his arm around my shoulder while posing for a picture.  (We had no common language.)  At Isfahan airport, the uniformed young woman in the women's security line wanted SO to sit down and have tea.  While waiting for the plane, we had an entertaining conversation with a businessman about the political situation and about poets ("You know, they don't know what to do with Hafez...") A taxi driver spontaneously apologized to SO for the scarf she was being forced to wear, and another said, while driving by the former US embassy on Taleghany, that he wanted the US to come back.  In Shiraz, a young man with no English insisted on paying for faloodah we'd already ordered.  And so on.

Several people said, when we commented on how nice Iranians had been to us, that "But we are not nice to each other."  As a tourist, we of course see little of what is under the surface, but comments like this hinted at the tensions within Iranian society.  We saw few other manifestations of this tension.  Except for the Customs officer (see above), we never saw anyone in authority behave poorly; in fact, the regular police seemed exceptionally courteous in dealing with people.  No Hezbollahi ever hassled us. I have been told that the word has come down that foreigners are not to be bothered, but Iranian tradition may prevent such discourtesy in any case.

Taxi costs (after bargaining...not the initial quote!) were consistent with the prices listed in LP's guide allowing for a year's inflation of ~25%, and at the end of the trip the payment was always accepted with a smile and without counting the bills; no one ever asked for more than the agreed-upon price. Vendors on the street offered their wares but did not insist; beggars asked but did not pester. The contrast to India was so extreme as to be disorienting, because in some ways Iranian towns look a lot like towns in the Indian subcontinent, except for being a lot cleaner (everywhere there were garbage bins, and the streets were relatively spotless).

Ordinary Iranians did not seem very religious to me. We saw maybe three mullahs in the whole time we were there, we never saw anyone actually praying, and we heard calls to prayer only faintly or not at all (in many Muslim countries the amplified cacophony from duelling mosques is unavoidable). We saw more theatrical weeping at Shia shrines outside Iran than we did in Iran. The Hosseinieh (tomb) of Khomeini looks more like a railway station than anything else; people are sleeping on the carpets, kids run around freely...

. . .”


The strangest famous Iranian behavior among westerners is T'aarof; it’s a part of hospitality for Iranians: People stand up when new guests arrive except the elderly who will remain seated, or a host is obliged to offer several times anything particularly foods to guest, or a shopkeeper may initially refuse to quote a price for a stuff and suggest that it is worthless, etc!

If you can’t handle T'aarof it would be better you politely ask he/she not to T'aarof [T'aarof nakonid] and accept or reject as soon as you wish to, and be sure that Iranians will not be offended.

Birth, marriage & death

There is a belief among Iranian according which birth, marriage and death are three most important events in one's life and the second is your own task, then youngs should try to have the best choice as their future spouse to figure an ideal life, in this manner weddings are held aristocratically in Iran.

^ A miniature which illustrates Iranian’s matrimony


Birthday party has a long history in Iran as Herodotus mentioned it too, the way of observing it is as same as the others; but mourning ceremonies has a protocol! According to distant beliefs, people respect the dead person by holding mourning at 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 40th and the anniversary of his/her death.

As Iran has a wide ethnic diverse, there are several styles for different traditions but with a share identical base. Nowadays as the other countries, Iranian customs are vanishing due to the globalizations.


Calendar & Celebrations

Domestically, Iranians love to get together in big groups on any possible occasions! This feature backs to primeval days when the most get-togethers were celebrations not religious mourning as it currents now.

Zoroastrianism was the religion of Iran before the conquest of Islam in the 7th century AD. The architect of this religion, Zoroaster created many feasts and celebrations to pay homage to Yazata (Eyzads) who symbolized all forces beneficial to humans.

First group of these celebrations are monthly ones: in Zoroastrian Iran a year was consist of 12 months with 30 days plus 5 remained days at the end of the year as Panje or Behizak (five), each day of a month had a name  and when a day’s name and Month’s name were the same that day were a feast:

  1. FarvardinGan (Apr. 7th) : Day of the Dead
  2. OrdibeheshtGan (Apr. 21st)
  3. KhordaadGan (May 24th)
  4. TirGan (Jun. 30th) : Water Festival 
  5. AmordaadGan (Jul. 24th)
  6. ShahrivarGan (Aug. 20th)
  7. MehrGan (Oct. 1st) : Overture of Winter
  8. AabaanGan (Oct. 25th)
  9. AazarGan (Nov. 23rd)
  10. DayGan (Dec. 15th, Dec. 22nd, Dec. 29th, Jan. 6th)
  11. BahmanGan (Jan. 15th)
  12. EsfandGan (Feb. 17th) : Women’s day (valentine day)


Second bunch is annually ones:

In ancient times the Iranian’s year was used to be divided to two parts: The first season was a 7months summer or Hama and the second was a 5 months winter or Zayana. The coming of the two seasons would be celebrated through Noruz and Mehregan.

Noruz: Noruz or New Year's Day (No= New + ruz=day) is celebrating on the first day of the first month of the year. The days before Noruz are the time of cleaning houses and hearts to begin a nice new year; time of growing herb sprout. At the moment of changing the new year, families gather around a table on which Haft-Seen is decorated. Noruz is time of visiting relatives and friends starting with elderly ones.

Charshanbeh-Suri: Noruz’s prelude and which is a transformed Zoroastrian festival which is held at the night of the last Charshanbeh (Wednesday) of the year, in which people jump over 3 fires and wish to take the fire’s ruddiness and health and lose their yellowness and sick; they sing: "zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man". 3 fires is the symbol of Pendar-e Nik (good thoughts), Goftar-e Nik (good words) and Kerdar-e Nik (good deeds) which are the basis of Zoroastrianism religion.

Haft-Seen: Haft-Seen is 7 particular edibles which begin with "S" in Farsi including: Seeb (apple) symbolizing beauty and health - Sabzeh (herb sprouts) symbolizing rebirth - Serkeh (vinegar) symbolizing age and patience - Seer (garlic) symbolizing medicine - Senjed (oleaster’s dried fruit) symbolizing love - Somaq (sumac) symbolizing sunrise - Samanou (juice of wheat sprout with flour and brought to consistency) symbolizing affluence, in addition holy book, goldfish, mirror, candle, painted eggs, sweet, candy, fruit. Any of these members are a holy symbol which people wish them for the new year. 

Sizdeh be-dar: Noruz’s escort. In Noruz people visit their relations until the 13th day (Sizdeh be-dar) when people go outside according to an ancient tradition. In the other words Sizdah-bedar is the Persian Festival of "Joy and Solidarity". It is celebrated outdoors along with the beauty of nature. It is believed that "Joy" and "Laughter" clean the mind from all evil thoughts, and the picnic is usually a festive or happy event. Young people who wish to marry in that year tie greeneries! It backs to archaic legends: the first Iranian man & woman whose names were Mashy' & Mashyane tie two greeneries as the marriage contract. 

Mehregan: Zoroastrians celebrate prelude of winter in Mehregant from 16th to 21st of the seventh month, Mehr (Oct. 1st to 6th) at the time of the harvest festivals and beginning of the winter. In Mehregan animal sacrifices are made by some. Lambs are slaughtered and the remains are mixed with lentils, herbs and a substantial meal is prepared. Once cooked, the meal is distributed freely to all local people including the non-Zoroastrians. One of the oldest historical records about Mehregan refers back to the Achaemenian times.

Shabe Yaldaa: or Shabe Chelle is an Iranian festival originally celebrated on the Northern Hemisphere's longest night of the year (Dec. 21st), that is, on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Iranians get together in senior relatives’ home around a table which is decorated with customary foods and hold this night with repeating the mementos and reading Hafez poems and ShahName. 

Sade: At the 100th day of the winter (Jan. 29th) and as the overture of new year, Sade (Sad=100) is observing; it’s known as the time of discovering the fire by Hushang, the archaic King of Iran (it means he found how to set on fire).

^ Mobedan (Zoroastrian’s Priests), Sade Feast

Our Calendar is solar, it based on the seasonal year of approximately 365 1/4 days, the time it takes the Earth to revolve once around the Sun. The beginning of the Solar year is Farvardin the 1st (March 21st).

The Persian year starts with Bahaar (spring), the time of Globe rebirth, and consists of 12 months: Farvardin, Ordibehesht, Khordaad, Tir, Amordaad, Shahrivar, Mehr, Aabaan, Aazar, Dey, Bahman and Esfand.

here is a list of Holidays:

A. National holidays

Farvardin 1 to 4 (March 20 to 23): Noruz holidays. Businesses are off for 4 days but schools are off for 13 days

Farvardin 12 (March 31): the Islamic Republic Day

Farvardin 13 (April 1): Sizdeh be-dar(the 13th day of New Year)

Khordad 14 (May 3): Death of Imam Khomeini

Khordad 15 (May 4): National Uprising

Bahman 22 (February 10): Victory of Islamic Revolution

Esfand 29 (March 19): Oil Industry Nationalization

B. Islamic holidays (change each year according to the Islam Lunar Calendar)

Muharram 9 : Taasou'a (the day before Ashura in which many of Imam Hussein’s devotees martyred)

Muharram 10 : Ashura (Imam Hussein’s martyrdom)

Safar 20 : Arba'in-e Husseiny (40 days after Ashura); Safar 28 : Death of Prophet and Martyrdom of Imam Hassan

Safar 30 : Martyrdom of Imam Reza

Rabi-ol-Avval 17 : Birth of Holy Prophet and Imam Saadeq

Jamadi-ol-Aval 3 : Martyrdom of Hazrat-e Fateme

Rajab 13 : Imam Ali's Birthday

Rajab 27 : (Maba'th) Mission of Holy Prophet

Sha'ban 15 : Birthday of Hazrat-e Mahdi (Hidden Imam)

Ramadan 21 : Imam Ali's Martyrdom

Shaval 1 : (Eid-e Fetr) The festival for end of the Fasting Month

Shaval 25 : Martyrdom of Imam Saadeq

Zi-Hajeh 10 : (Eid-e Qurban) The Festival of Sacrifices

Zi-Hajeh 18 : (Eid-e Qadir) The Festival of Imam Ali’s choosing by God

Of course Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities have their own holidays.