Iranian Americans constitute a significant proportion of the population in Texas. Iranians (Persians) began to move to the United States in the year 1900. By 1980, the percentage of the Iranian population in the area around Texas grew significantly. Currently, the Iranian American population in the United States has increased tremendously. This community is popularly referred to as Persian community, mostly because of the negative connotation the name “Iran” has in the United States. This negative image is mostly attributed to the Iranian regime. Just like any other community, the Persian community in the United States has its culture and lifestyle. This paper focuses on some cultural aspects of the Persian community in Houston, Texas.
The Persian community under the auspices of the Iranian cultural foundation holds various cultural events on the American territory it inhabits. These events are extremely important to Iranians in the Diaspora because they provide them with a rare opportunity to commemorate certain aspects in their culture and religion. One of these events is Chaharshanbe soori or Wednesday’s feast. The Chaharshanbe soori is an old Iranian festival that is celebrated by almost all Iranians to mark the beginning of spring. This festival’s history dates back to a custom, ones witnessed in Tehran. It is believed that before the Islam era there existed a different version of this festival. It was not celebrated the same way it is celebrated now, and the dates of festival were different (Jalali, 45).
The concept of making bonfires can be traced back to the Muslim hero Mukhtar, a supporter of Shia Leader Ali and his family. He was the key factor in the popularity of Shia community in Iran. It was he who made the decision to attack all the enemies of Shia community and, thus, he asked all the Shia supporters to light bonfires on their rooftops in order to be distinguished from the enemies. From then the ritual of lighting bonfires came to the history of the festival. And, over this, the event took place before the last Wednesday of the year. Since then the festival is celebrated exactly on this day of the year. Moreover, it is believed that during the reign of Fath Ali Sha Tehran became the center of many popular myths. Stressed mothers and other people used to gather and pass under the pearl cannon with the hope that their problems will be cured (Ghomshei, 87). This custom was shifted from one place to another, depending on the prevailing circumstances. Most Iranian historians believe that this culture never died. Instead it was transformed into what is now celebrated as Chaharshanbe Suri.
This festival normally kicks off in the evening and runs throughout the night till morning. During this celebration, bonfires are lit in the open field to provide light just like the sun until morning. Open fires are lit on the streets and people are allowed to walk through with hope that they will be cured. According to Persians’ beliefs, this is a purification rite in which fire burns to cure people’s ailments and burn problems. After this Iranians believe that the participants feel relieved, because most of their problems were consumed by the blaze. Chaharshanbe soori participants usually wear special costumes during the festival. To the majority of middle east tribes this festival has some religious significance, although Iranians perceive it purely on cultural basis. Some delicacies are also served during this festival (Mahdi, & Daniel, 43).
Another notable event in the Iranian culture is the Nowrouz or Persian New Year. Iranians have a different calendar and the New Year’s day is marked by Nowruz celebrations. It is important to notice that Nowruz is celebrated not only by Iranians, but also by the other tribes bordering Iranians. Nowrouz celebrations mark the begging of spring. During this festival families gather to observe various rituals. The festival is believed to be the earliest among the Zoroastrians and its history is started by the first leader of Zoroastrian people. It is observed on the first day of the vernal equinox. According to our calendar, this day comes on the 21st of March. Up to this day, Nowruoz stands out as the holiest festival, moreover, it carries a doctrinal significance as it was discovered by Zoroaster himself. Although this event has great importance, there is no clear history, revealing the question whether early Iranians commemorated this feast or not. On the other hand, there exists evidence that Iranians marked both the beginning of spring and autumn. The most important activity in the celebration of Nowruz is making the haft-seen table. Haft is the Persian word for the number seven and seen is the Persian word for the letter S. Literally, the haft-seen table means a “table with seven things that start with the letter S”. Creating the haft-seen table is a family activity that begins by spreading a special family cloth on the table (Mahdi, & Daniel, 32).
Currently, Nowrouz festivals are observed in many countries that were under the influence of Persian culture. Preparation to Nowruoz holiday normally starts by cleaning the houses. New clothes and other households are purchased in order to get ready for the day. It is practiced in almost every Iranian family. It is obligatory that during this festival a person shall wear a new set of clothes. On the day itself families start the celebration by visiting the old within their families. As the day progresses, families visit friends and relatives. On the 13th day of the occasion families join others in picnics and parties outside their homes. This day is marked with joy and people enjoy themselves the same way Christians do during Christmas day (Mahdi, & Daniel, 65).
The other festival that is slightly different from the cultural feats, celebrated in the entire Persian world, is the Persian festival in Houston, Texas. This festival is organized by the Iranian cultural foundation, based in Texas, in collaboration with Iranian-American organization of Houston. The aim of this festival is to bring together Iranians living in the United States. Unlike other Persian festivals, the Persian festival in Houston is featured by folkloric and other traditional dances of Persian origin. The festival is meant to bring together Iranians. It showcases the best of the Iranian culture. The event normally features classical music, performing arts, literature and poetry, Persian delicacies and other things. The festival takes place onece a year, preferably in the advent of Norouz. This festival has no religious connotation, it is organized exceptionally to bring together Iranians, who live in the United States, especially those living in Texas. Its organization is similar to the other festivals, organized in the United States. Mostly the festival is attended by people of Persian origin, although every person is free to attend it.