Iranian festivals tend to center around the Muslim religion, with most celebrating a holiday or event. Festivals vary greatly by region due to Iran’s multi-ethnic make-up. Visitors should note that when watching or participating in any religious event, conservative dress is a must and women may want to cover their heads. Ask your tour guide or hotel what customs need to be followed so as not to offend anyone.
Day of Ashoura
Taking place in February every year, the Ashoura Festival celebrates the martyrdom of Husayn in Ali, grandson of Muhammad. This is a time for Shi’a Muslims to show their devotion. The event include self-mutilation and flagellation, such as cutting parts of the body, which are viewed as barbaric by some.
Leilat al Mi’raj
An important day for Muslims in February or March is remembered for when the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is one of the most significant days on the Islamic calendar and celebrated with night prayers and illuminated buildings.
Nowruz, the celebration of Iranian New Year, starts on March 20 and is considered the most important holiday in Iran. Festivities take place over 12 days and usually involve the cleaning of homes, the giving alms and the visiting of relatives. There are regional variations, with the Kurds celebrating using fire.
Tehran International Puppet Theater Festival
This Iranian festival takes place every two years and attracts leading puppeteers from all over the world to Tehran. Dating back to 1989, participants have included acts from Germany, Canada, Austria, and England. Although event dates vary, it usually takes place in June.
Tehran Book Fair
The Tehran Book Fair is one of the leading publishing events in the region. It takes place annually in May or June and attracts roughly five million visitors and thousands of domestic and international publishers. It is one of the pre-eminent book events in the Middle East and Asia, and usually takes place on the Grand Prayer Grounds in Tehran, a special venue for visitors to pick up rare and out-of-print literature.
Tehran International Short Film Festival
The Tehran International Short Film Festival has been taking place every year in October or November since 1983. It is a wonderful opportunity to see contemporary Iranian artistic talent. Movies are screened at various venues in Tehran, usually in the Mellat Cinema Complex.
Yalda Festival (Shab e Cheleh)
Celebrated on the longest night of year which generally falls somewhere in the middle of December, this festival marks the defeat of evil. Iranians will eat melon, which is thought to ward off illness and visitors will find many restaurants serving dishes that involve the fruit.
Festival of Fire (Chahar Shanbeh Soori)
Taking place annually on the last Wednesday of December, the Festival of Fire sees bonfires sprouting up in various public areas and parks. People jump over the burning cinders and shout, “Give me your red color and take back sickly pallor," which is a purification ritual. Many Iranians believe their ancestors’ spirits visit during the last few days of the year.