It is not odd to hear Iranians celebrate Valentine like many people around the world, but there is an Iranian ancient tradition, just a few days after Valentine to honor and celebrate women and girls; Esfandegan or Sepandarmazgan.
If you ever happen to walk in the streets of Iran major cities (and even the smaller ones) on Valentine’s Day, you can see lots red gifts at stores and so many young couples celebrating this day of love. Valentine’s Day in Iran is so much similar to western countries, although not a local tradition, it is very popular among many youngsters. However, this is not all! There is a tradition kept from ancient days (Sassanid era) on the 5th of Esfand (the last month in the Iranian Solar Calendar, usually from 19th of February to 19th of March) called Esfandegan or Sepandarmazgan.
Sepandārmazgān (Persian: سپندارمذگان) is an ancient Iranian festival with Zoroastrian roots dating back to the Persian Empire. This festival is widely known as the Persian Day of Love, although it is celebrated in its neighboring countries as well such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan. This day is dedicated to Spənta Ārmaiti (Avestan for "Holy Devotion", Spandārmad in Middle Persian, Persian: سپندارمذ Spendārmad or Sepandarmaz), the Amesha Spenta who is given the domain of "earth". The date of the festival as observed in the Sassanid era was on the 5th day of the month Spandarmad.
According to Biruni, it was a day where women rested and men had to bring them gifts:
"On the 5th day or Isfahdmah-Roz (day of Isfand), there is a feast on account of the identity of the names of the month and the day. Isfandarmah is charged with the care of the earth and with that the good, chaste, and beneficient wife who loves her husband. In the past times, this was a special feast of the women, when the men used to make them liberal presents. In Persian it is called Mardgiran."
Furthermore, Biruni notes that on this day, commoners ate raisins and pomegranate seeds. According to Gardizi, this celebration was special for women, and they called this day also mard-giran (possessing of men).
Iranian year in the pre-Islamic era used to be consisted of 12 months of 30 days each, and a 5 day holiday gap at the end of the year. During Sassanid dynasty and Zoroastrianism as the official religion of Iran, 30 days of a month had names instead of numbers and twelve of these names were the same as the names of the months. Whenever the name of the months met the name of the day, it was a holiday and people celebrated it. These holidays had different purposes like Mehregan in early autumn as thanksgiving festival.
Most of these holidays along with some other traditions were forgotten after the dominance of Islam and conversion of people from Zoroastrianism to Islam, though only a few survived. The most important one was Nowruz (Iranian new year eve), Yalda Night (the longest night of the year at winter solstice) and some less popular ones such as Mehregan, Abrizgan and Esfandegan Day.
The fifth day of each month used to be called as Esfand (or Sepandarmaz), and the 12th month of the year is Esfand. Therefore, Esfandegan was a holiday to honor the women and the concept of fertility. Sepandarmaz or the most recent form Esfand, is an angel and keeper of Earth. She is the breeder of all creations on Earth and the origin of many blessings. In this day, a man used to give gifts to his wife and daughter(s). This shows the women’s high status in Iran since ancient times.
Some people believe that it is Iranian Love Day, however there are no documents remained to prove this claim. It seems to be in response to make an Iranian version of Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February which is 10 days before Esfandegan. This idea is gaining popularity among common people to make this day both a symbol of love and honoring women whether it is true or not!
The original Esfandegan was on the 5th day of Esfand equals to 23rd of February but some scholars believe it is on 29th of Bahaman or 17th of February. So why two dates for a single day? This 6-day gap refers to calculations of the modern Iranian Solar year which is 365.25 days and the months are not fixed 30 days. Therefore, these scholars decided to make corrections in the calendar and preponed Esfandegan to 6 days earlier. These corrections have caused bewilderment among people who like to retrieve this old tradition.
The jashn-e barzegarán (Festival of Agriculturists) is celebrated in Iran also on the 5th day of Spandarmad month (the Spandarmad day). People pray for good harvest, honor the deity of Earth Spandārmad, and put signs on doors to destroy evil spirits.