Trick-or-Treating Persian Style!

“What is the difference between ‘people’ and a ‘nation’?” our social studies professor asked. Being the arrogant second-year undergrad students we were, a chorus of different explanations roared through the auditorium.

The professor stared at us nonchalantly, paying absolutely no attention to the giggling gaggle in front of him. He waited patiently until everyone quieted down and then he pointed to one of the students, “You, what do you think?” He asked. “Well, people are just…people I guess; a group of ‘persons’ in the plural meaning. Whereas, ‘nation’ refers to a group of people who share the same geographical borders, and maybe have the same culture,” The said student explained. Earning a half-smile from the professor (one of the scariest in our department) and a collection of “boo’s” from classmates.

“Culture plays a very important role in a nation’s identity. It strengthens the dialogue between them and it ensures unity during a crisis; which is, let me assure you, very crucial when you live in this part of the world,” The professor explained.

I’m not going to lay out the details of that whole session; I simply wanted to borrow the concept of culture in a context of a nation to proceed with this article.

So many countries around the world celebrated Halloween as it came and gone.; regardless of whether or not this exciting event has any roots in their societies.

I saw so many of my friends at lavish Halloween parties in Iran and elsewhere (where Halloween is technically not a celebration, but it has become a ‘thing’ over the years for sure!) And personally, I believe that people could and should celebrate any event that they like. Life is too short, we might as well get the best of it!

I’m also a firm believer in connecting people through cultural events; the language of art, music, traditions, rituals, food and etc. is much more powerful than any political conversation for that matter after all!

So if my friends in Iran decide to celebrate Halloween to the extreme (and I’m talking parties with unbelievable creativity on costumes and themes) I’ll gladly give them the thumbs up and let the mere jealousy of not being able to party with them wash over me.

What it saddens me, however, are some of our own forgotten traditions that had been celebrated for generations.

Ghashogh-Zani (Tapping by spoons) is one of those cherished, yet neglected traditions.

As part of Chahrshanbe-Suri (Festival of Fire) celebrations, Ghashogh Zani has long roots in the Persian New Years history.

The concept of tapping by spoons derives from the belief that the spirits of our ancestors emerge from heavens on the last few days of the year and come to our doors to bring hope and health; in return, the residence of that house have to return their kindness with their own generosity, aka gifts. During this old tradition, women cover themselves in Chadors, making sure to cover their faces, hold a pot of some kind in one hand and a spoon in another. The whole purpose is for these spoon tappers to stay anonymous.

They’ll go door-to-door tapping their little spoons on the pot while the person answering the door fills their empty pots with anything that family can afford (traditionally, the pots would be filled with ingredients to make Ash-Reshteh, such as beans, herbs, etc.) Nowadays, however, their pots are filled with anything from cookies to little bags of rice!

Sounds familiar?

Even though this fun tradition hasn’t really been practiced for many years, and has been subtly replaced by Halloween for the past decade, there are still people who are devoted to practice ancient traditions and celebrations; youngsters have taken it upon themselves to revive old rituals.

I’d gladly celebrate Halloween in October, and when I have children, I’d make sure to take them trick-or-treating in whatever ridiculous costume they demand!

And when the Persian New Years comes along in March, bringing with it the festivities like Chahrshanbe Suri, Ghashogh Zani, Sizdah-be-dar and so much more, I’d make sure to retell the story of our ancestors and their traditions, trying my hardest to stay in tuned with my roots and allowing my future children to be raised with the best of both of our worlds.

And really, isn’t that one of the advantages of being a dual citizen?

Featured Image by Hamid Amlashi, ISNA.

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