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    Zoroastrian Sepandārmazgān (Esfandegan) Festival

    Iran - Zoroastrian Sepandārmazgān (Esfandegan) Festival


    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 (Persianسپندارمذگان‎) 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 PersianPersianسپندارمذ‎ 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.

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    This workshop is designed according to the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme in order to give young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision-makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The idea of involving young people in World Heritage preservation and promotion came as a response to Article 27 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention). Furthermore, Patrimonito means 'small heritage' in Spanish and the character represents a young heritage guardian. Patrimonito has been widely adopted as the international mascot of the World Heritage Education Programme.
    Date: 29th December
    Number of trainees: 7
    Duration: 3 hours

    The workshop of "Patrimonito" was held on 29th of December. Participants arrived around 10:30 and they were welcomed by hot chocolate and Persian cup cakes. After a little introduction by trainers and trainees, the process started by making two groups and letting them choose a name for their group, each group was accompanied by a mentor then each group was given some images of world heritage sites in Iran and some descriptions, each group was asked to match images and descriptions, the mentor was guiding them throughout the activity. All trainees were participating actively and trying to remember their experiences about their travels to these places. When they were done with the activity, the mentors started giving the answers and a brief explanation about each site; mentors were using trainees’ ideas and experiences to complete their tasks.

    Shortly after that, the second part started which was a presentation done by two of mentors. The aim of this presentation was to define the value of these world heritage sites and duties of each person as a "Patrimonito", and what happens if there is no "Patrimonito" and nobody cares about our tangible or intangible heritage. In this part trainees started questioning and understanding the whole concept of being a "Patrimonito", they also added their own suggestions on how to protect our heritage and by the end of this part, they were completely aware about their role as a "Patrimonito".
    Now it was a best time to have a short break, during the break trainees were introduced to some of intangible heritages as they were served by traditional food and snacks and even they way of serving was according to traditions and everyone had this opportunity to discuss about intangible heritage while enjoying some traditional food and snacks.
    When the break was done, everyone was asked to choose a heritage either tangible or intangible and they had to introduce their chosen heritage to a tourist by making a postcard using what they have learnt. They were given all of necessary tools such as color papers, color pencils, glue, scissors, images of heritage and a mentor was with them in order to help them completing the task.

    When they were done, they handed out their postcards and with the mentors they sat together and spent a few minutes asking and answering about what they have learnt. Then they were told to say their vows for protecting their heritage and caring about it, the mentor said the vow and the trainees repeated after her and they officially became a "Patrimonito".

    The last but the best part was when they were given the certificates, and they were told that since they are aware of the value of the heritage and they know how to protect it, they are chosen as "Patrimonito" and they should continue their mission by introducing the value of heritage to others. They were granted certificates and labels and the workshop of "Patrimonito" was finished by taking some memorial photos.