Southland Iranians Spring In a New Year

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ryan Kafri and a group of his buddies swayed and clapped to the beat of a "zarb" drum that echoed through William R. Mason Regional Park in Irvine.

The young men chanted in Farsi about the back and forth flirting of two young lovers as others gathered around and cheered them on.

The 18-year-old senior from Beverly Hills, however, demurred when asked for more details about what the songs said.

"It's a little dirty . . . but not that bad," the lanky young man said with a shy smile.

After all, this is a family gathering.

More than 20,000 people Sunday attended the Persian New Year festival of Sezdeh-Bedar in what park officials called one of the largest crowds in years.

"It's a huge turnout," said Parker Hancock, a supervising park ranger for the county. "We've had bigger crowds but this is getting up there. It's amazing."

The fete, which celebrates the 13th day of the Zoroastrian New Year, has been an Irvine spring tradition for more than 15 years, attracting Iranian families from all over Southern California for a day of feasting, dancing and catching up with old friends.

In recent years, an undertone of grumblings had marred the celebrations. About six years ago, the county, which runs the park, began selling vendor permits for the festival, which led some families to complain that the gathering resembled a flea market more than a community event, and two years ago, a fight in the crowd led to the arrest of five people.

"The vending booths changed the nature of the event," said Bahman Tavakoli, a member of the Network of Iranian Professionals of Orange County, which helps organize the festival. "It's supposed to be a family event, for people to come out and meet relatives and friends."

Tavakoli said the county heeded the complaints and stopped selling permits last year. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate that year and they had a low turnout.

Sunday, the crowds were back. The smells of barbecued lamb, smoked fish and fragrant saffron rice mixed in the warm air with the sound of Farsi folk songs emanating from boom boxes around the park.

Sezdeh-Bedar marks the 13th and last day of the new year celebration, which begin with the first day of spring, or Norouz. Iranians all over the world gather at parks and beaches because some believe it is bad luck to stay indoors on the 13th day.

"It's a day to get rid of all the bad omens, to come outside into nature and begin fresh," Tavakoli said.

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According to Persian folklore, Sezdeh-Bedar is also the day when young love flourishes. Young men and women who tie a knot with a strand of grass on this day, it is said, will meet someone by next Sezdeh-Bedar or be married to the one they love.

"All the girls are going to get married and all the boys are going to find girls," said Ema Kamrava, a hairdresser from North Hollywood who came to enjoy the festival.

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