Persian fire-jumping festival delights Berkeley residents

Berkeley residents jumped over fire, enjoyed grilled meat and danced to traditional Persian music in celebration of the Persian New Year.
Alison Fu/Staff
Berkeley residents jumped over fire, enjoyed grilled meat and danced to traditional Persian music in celebration of the Persian New Year.

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With the street cordoned off, the smell of grilled meat in the air and house music bumping in the background, Berkeley residents celebrated the Persian New Year Festival Tuesday night.

Berkeley residents jumped over fire, enjoyed grilled meat and danced to traditional Persian music in celebration of the Persian New Year.

For 14 years, the lively street fair has been held in Berkeley, attracting families, students and even city officials from all over the Bay Area. In Persian tradition, Chahar Shanbeh Souri, or the festival of fire, is held on the last Tuesday of winter and acts as a prelude to the Persian New Year. The festival is famous for the ancient tradition of jumping over a bonfire to “(bid) farewell to winter,” said Shohreh Terman, a Persian teacher at Berkeley’s Persian Center.

The small fires at the festival were a huge attraction for children and adults alike. But they were just one of many. With the festival spanning an entire block, booths for kebabs, Persian pastries and henna lined up one after the other. It is the largest celebration of its kind in the East Bay, said Behnoush Babzani, the event’s master of ceremonies.

The event, organized by the Persian Center, has grown considerably in size over the years. Last year, more than 1,000 people attended, Babzani said. The crowd Tuesday night appeared just as large. The city of Berkeley has even helped fund the festival for the past several years.

“It’s a major local event, a very important cultural event,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who has been coming to the event for the past five years.

Many, like Arreguin, are returning attendees. For Farah Huibari, Tuesday marked her sixth time attending.

“It’s very nice,” Huibari said. “You get to see some friends and try good food. It sort of reminds me of the stuff we used to do as children back at home.”

For many Persian attendees, the celebration was more than just a tradition — it was an opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances and others of the East Bay Persian community.

“It’s great — a chance to see all these Persian people,” said Leila Jam, a second-time attendee.

Others, however, were there mainly for the party.

“We are having a good time,” said local Shehab Parnianchi. “I really like the music. It’s a great gathering.”

The Persian Center will also be holding a Norouz, or New Year, celebration next Wednesday, March 20, which will include “dinner, music and dancing,” according to the Persian Center website.

Contact Alison Fu at [email protected].

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