On the last Tuesday night of the Persian year, known as Chahar Shanbeh Souri, Iranians, Afghans, Kurds, Azerbaijanis and others jump over fire for good luck and health in the coming year. It is part of Nowruz, an ancient Zoroastrian holiday that celebrates the new year on the first day of spring.
Once a relatively tame ritual with smaller fires and candy for children, Chahar Shanbeh Souri surged in popularity in Iran after the government tried to ban it as un-Islamic following the 1979 revolution. The attempt backfired, and the holiday became a symbol of protest against the regime. Now city streets blaze each year with giant bonfires and loud firecrackers, attracting crowds of all ages and religious persuasions.
In the Washington area, home to the third-largest concentration of Iranians in the United States, community members get permits to hold celebrations in parking lots or at fairgrounds. But on Tuesday night at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, the county fire marshal declared the winds too gusty for fires. Revelers contented themselves with other Nowruz rituals, including watching Haji Firuz, a character dressed in a red outfit and fez, who sings, dances and plays the tambourine.