Iranians celebrate Nowruz despite coronavirus, sanctions

An Iranian releases a lantern in Tehran on March 16, 2021 during the Wednesday Fire feast, or Chaharshanbeh Soori, held annually on the last Wednesday eve before the Spring holiday of Nowruz. (Photo: AFP)

TEHRAN, March 21 (Xinhua) -- On Saturday, Tehran's Vali Asr street, like many other market places in this megacity, was crowded with people who were out for shopping to greet the Iranian New Year.

Stores seek to expand sales with their discount ads, and peddlers, lined up along the wide pavements, sing inviting chants.

These days, Iranians have been celebrating the New Year, Nowruz, for the second year in a row under a spell of COVID-19 challenges as well as the economic hardship.

For many Iranians, shopping before Nowruz is a cheerful part of the traditional ritual. Most Iranians still follow this traditional observance over the past years despite coronavirus restrictions and economic pressures.

Mask-clad Iranians shop amid the Covid-19 pandemic, at the Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran on March 17, 2021 as Iran prepares to celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. (Photo: AFP)

Amir, 25, who takes care of his mother and his two younger sisters, was selling pants and shirts for children.

"This is almost a week I am here. Today is the last day. It is good. The market is good. Compared to last year, people are shopping well this year," Amir uttered these hasty words, trying not to lose sight of passersby.

A young couple, who concluded shopping at Amir's corner of street market, looked excited and content with their deal.

"One of the most important things that we need to know is that Nowruz means Eid (feast), sweets and new clothes for children, and we should not deprive them of these small pleasures," said Masood, the young husband and a civil servant.

The signs of celebrating Nowruz were visible everywhere in the crowded street, amidst the hustle and bustle of people, in the bowls of goldfish, and in the stretch of green stalls laid out for sales.

But, perhaps nothing was as exciting and memorable as the sight of eccentric people, traditionally called Haji Firooz.

A hundred meters up to the north of Vali Asr square, a number of Haji Firooz men, clad in red costume with their faces blackened, were dancing, playing Daf, singing funny lays and doing stunts for people and moving cars.

"Haji Firooz is the symbol of Nowruz and main element of happy city in the last days of the year," said Ahmad, a young fellow and student of arts at the University of Tehran.

For many Iranians, Nowruz is an opportunity to spend time with loved ones and the elderly, get out of the walls of their homes, and travel to other cities in the country.

Yet, during the Nowruz celebrations this year, the country's health officials have advised to avoid mass gatherings due to COVID-19, warning that indoor gatherings can be a serious cause of disease transmission.

"We can skip travelling this year just like what we had to do last year, but is it possible to be indifferent to seeing the elders? No," Nahid, a middle-aged housewife who lives in the western Sadeqieh district of Tehran and was busy shopping for preparatory items for the Nowruz table.

"I am preparing a 'Haft Seen' set for my mother's table, and we have decided to celebrate the turn of the year in her home," she pointed to the display of seven items in her basket which she had bought at the florist's.

Nowruz, or new day in Persian, is perhaps the most important festival among Iranians, the meaning and significance of which is coupled with the coming of spring, the time of heal, revival and a change in nature.

"Hopefully, this year would be the last year for virtual Nowruz messages and celebrations," Mrs. Baqerpour, the seller at the florist's said.

"God willing, we will resume our festivities and tradition in the real world next Nowruz," she said.