TEHRAN — Fireworks crackled on the streets at dusk Tuesday as many Iranians celebrated the pre-Islamic festival of Chaharshanbe Suri, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Fire.
The celebration, which marks the run-up to Nowruz, the new year holiday, has become an annual opportunity for young Iranians to engage in public merriment not related to official or religious holidays.
Iran’s religious authorities, who frown upon public mingling of unmarried men and women, have generally been tolerant of the tradition, but social customs discourage public frolicking.
Many youths loath the ubiquitous morality police — who enforce Islamic dress codes and gender strictures on socializing — and prefer to go out of town for the party. An ingenious industry has emerged to transport young people deep into the desert on bus trips for a day of high jinks and gaiety, away from morality minders. The lengthy bus voyage is part of the fun.
“Our customers are going to rock and roll for 3 1/2 hours on the bus while the curtains of the windows are drawn,” said Goli, 25, a green-eyed civil engineer and eco-tourism entrepreneur who organized a Festival of Fire getaway tour this year.
Like other enthusiasts interviewed, Goli did not want her surname used for privacy reasons.
On this day, three buses were transporting 90 young people from northwest Tehran to an isolated spot in Iran’s central desert. There, participants planned to set off firecrackers, light a bonfire and be happy.
The highlight is the dance around the blazing pyre, pagan style. The tradition, dating to the Zoroastrian era, more than 3,000 years ago, is also sometimes called the Fire Jumping festival.
“We don’t have a political or religious agenda,” said Saman, 26, one of relatively few men in a mostly female expedition. “We simply want to have fun and a good time. The kind of simple things we are deprived of in the city.”
Ziba, 27, a businesswoman, emphasized that participants were ecologically minded.
“We don’t set fire to any bushes in the desert,” Ziba said. “We have brought wood debris from the trash and wood chips. ... We take them to the desert, make our bonfire and jump about safely without damaging the environment or bothering anyone with our dances or shouts.”
Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.
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