Fifty days before Iranian New Year Day (in Persian: Nowruz), the ancient holiday of Sadeh is celebrated in Iranian culture. Sadeh traditionally is celebrated in Bahman 10 in Iranian Calendar, which coincides with January 29 or 30. ‘Sad’ in Persian means one hundred, which refers collectively to one hundred days and nights before Nowruz. In Persian mythology it is believed that King Hushang, the son of Siamak and the grandson of Kayumars, has established it. The King wanted to hit a small dragon with a stone. The dragon escaped but the stone fell on another stone and fire broke out. Hushang said: “This is a light from God. So we must admire it”.
Sadeh is also known to be a Zoroastrian celebration of fire and driving the cold winter away with the new light and warmth of spring and summer. It is a time of chasing away falsehood with the light of truth. On this holiday children go around door to door and collect wood for the fire. While adults are in charge of the fire pit, children are running all over their neighborhoods looking for old tree limbs and other pieces of wood for the fire. It should be noted that contrary to myth, Zoroastrians do not 'worship' fire. Fire is sacred because it is what really separates human beings from animals. Both man and animal can think, reason, and make tools. But only man can make fire. According to Zoroastrians fire was the 'breakthrough technology' that helped gets it started. It was a direct gift from God, given with the mandate for man to be responsible for it.
During the Sassanid Dynasty (224-651), bonfire was set up. The Zoroastrian Clergies (in Persian: Moabedaan-e-Zartoshti) used to lead the prayers specific to fire (in Persian: Atash Niyayesh) and performed the correct rituals before it was lit at sunset. People would dance around the fire. Wine, a luxury at the time, was served commonly and like other Zoroastrian ceremonies, the occasion ended with fun, and happiness. As already noted, setting up the fire in the celebration originally meant to help revive the declining sun, and bring back the light and warmth of spring and summer. It was also designed to drive off the demons of frost and cold, which turned water to stone, and thus could kill the roots of plants beneath the earth.
The most detailed report on the Celebration of Sadeh traces back to the reign of Mardaviz Zeyar, the founder of Zeyarid Dynasty who ruled in the Caspian provinces of Mazandaran and Gorgaan (presently called Gollestaan), Hamadan, and Isfahan. From the Iranian origin and blood, all rulers of Zeyarid Dynasty (928-1043) did their best to keep the Celebration of Sadeh and other old traditions alive. In February 932 and during the rule of Mardaviz, the bonfire was set up on both sides of the River of Zaayandeh-rood, the main river dividing the city of Isfahan. The fire was contained in specially build metal holders to maintain control. Hundreds of birds were released while carrying little fireballs to light the sky. There were fireworks, clowns, dance and music with lavish feasts of roasted lamb, beef, chicken and other delicacies.
In a traditional Celebration of Sadeh, the fire is kept burning all night. The day after, first thing in the morning, women would go to the fire and each one will carry a small portion back to their homes and new glowing fire is made from the ritually blessed fire. This is to spread the blessing of the Sadeh fire to every household in the neighborhood. Whatever that is left of the fire will be taken back to the temple to be pilled in one container and will be kept at the temple. The festivities would normally go on for three days and the wood gathering by the boys door to door and blessing of the dead happens every night and evenings are spend eating and giving away some charitable gifts (in Persian: Khairaat). Food prepared from slaughtered lamb and a soup (also called as Aash-e-Khairat in Persian), are distributed amongst the less fortunate people.
In Gaznavid era (963-1187) and particularly during Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavi (SMG) who ruled from 997 to 1030 in the Iranian city of Ghazni (in present-day Afghanestan), Sadeh was also celebrated in many parts of the region. It is documented that famous Iranian poets, Ferdowsi and Onsori, used to attend the court ceremonies of SMG and present their verses for this special event of Sadeh.
According to many scholars, after Ziarid and Ghaznavid Dynasties, the tradition was virtually lost even amongst the Zoroastrians. In Pahlavi era (1925-1979) it was revived and adopted as a major celebration by the whole Zoroastrian community and presently it is increasingly popular among the rest of the Iranians. Today, this special event of Sadeh seems to have no religious significance for the majority of Iranians and no specific rituals are involved other than torching bonfire at sunset and having a good time and therefore keeping up with the ancient traditions when much fun used to be practiced.
The unforgettable poems on the ancient Iranian Celebration of Sadeh composed by Ferdowsi (the first Iranian epic poet), Onsori (one of the famous Iranian poets), Abdolali Adib Boroumand, and Pirayeh Yaghmaii (the contemporary Iranian poet and poetess respectively) can be viewed online in a section of Cultural Heritage in Poetry as provided by this author.