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The lights of the bazar reflect in the colorfully wrapped candy exposed for sale. Chatting Iranians crowd in the small streets collecting the last gifts for the celebration. Soon they will all be impatiently gathering around the traditional New Year’s table, waiting for the exact moment spring arrives: Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Christian Iranians Firouz and Heydar share about the most popular celebration in Iran.

The fragrance of his grandmothers Nowruz cooking; that is what Firouz remembers best about his youth in Iran: “I would walk into the kitchen and could just smell that it was this joyful time of the year again” he recalls with a smile. You can’t miss the fact that Nowruz is approaching when you are in Iran in the days before it starts he says: “We buy new clothes and clean the house so thoroughly that we call it ‘shaking of the house’.” Heydar adds that it’s also a time of figurative refreshment: “On the last Tuesday of the old year we make a fire and jump over it, leaving all the bad things of the past year behind us.”

At the exact moment the New Year arrives, 20th of March 8:27PM and 7 seconds this year, the streets will be strangely empty, Firouz shares: “You won’t see a car in the streets of Tehran; everyone will be gathered in their houses around the New Year’s table. Even the people that are not religious will say a prayer at that moment.” The New Year’s table, called ‘Haft Seen’ in Farsi contains several items representing good wishes for the year to come. Heydar shows a picture of a Hyacinth: “The fragrance of this flower, mixed with the fragrance of new banknotes will always remember me about the good times I had and still have with my family around the Haft Seen table: the flowers are always on our Haft Seen table and the new banknotes I give to my children right after the arrival of the New Year.”

Christians add a Bible to the Haft Seen table, Muslims a Koran. But strange as it may sound: the most important holiday in the Islamic republic of Iran is not an Islamic one, not a Christian one: it dates back to the time of the great Persian empire, long before Islam and Christianity even existed. The government has tried to forbid it year after year because they say the celebration is ‘un-Islamic’. The fact that they didn’t succeed to do so shows that Iranians still cling to their Persian heritage more then to their Muslim identity. It surprises Iranians that Christians also celebrate Nowruz, while the strict Islamic government tries to get rid of it: “When people ask us about it, we show them the many parts in the Bible that are about Persia and Persians” says Heydar: “Then they find out that Christianity isn’t a Western religion as the government portrays it to be, it’s actually something that’s much more close to them.”