Iran (Persian: ایران) is a country in southwest Asia with an area of 1,648,195 km2 (about one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States)
and a population of 75 million (about one-fourth that of the United States). Farsi (Persian) is spoken by the majority of the population in Iran,
though a significant portion of the population also speaks other languages/dialects such as Azeri, Kurdish, Lori, Arabic, Baluchi, Gilaki, Mazandarani,
and Turkmen. The vast majority of Iranians are muslims. There are also small populations of Zoroastrians, Christians, Jewish people, and people of other
faiths living in Iran. The capital of Iran is Tehran (with a population of around 10 million), and other major cities include Mashhad, Esfahan, Tabriz,
Karaj, and Shiraz. Although nearly three quarters of Iranians live in urban areas, Iran also has one of the largest nomadic populations in the world
(an estimated 1.5 million).
Culture and traditions
Noe-rooz (Persian for “the new day”) represents the arrival of the New Year in Iranian calendar (also referred to as “the Persian New Year),
and is the most cherished national festival in Iran. It marks the first day of spring, and begins at the exact time of the vernal equinox
in the Northern Hemisphere in late March). Noe-rooz is rooted in a Zoroastrian custom, and has been used to celebrate the arrival of spring
at least since the Achaemenid era (5th century BC). Noe-rooz (or a close variation of it) is celebrated in many countries in south, south central,
and southwest Asia, including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. In 2010,
the UN General Assembly recognized the International Day of Noe-rooz, describing it as a spring festival of Persian origin which has been
celebrated for over 3,000 years
Yalda, is the Persian winter solstice celebration with an ancient historical background. Yalda Night is the longest night of the year in the
Northern Hemisphere, and marks the beginning of winter. It is usually celebrated on December 20 or 21 each year. Yalda has its roots in Mithraism,
but it has become a social occasion when family and close friends get together and have obligatory servings of fresh fruits, especially watermelon and pomegranate.
Chahar-Shanbeh-Soori (Persian for Wednesday Feast) is an ancient Iranian festival that dates back to at least 1700 BC of the early Zoroastrian era.
Also called the Festival of Fire, it is a prelude to Noe-rooz, and is celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Iranian year. The celebration
usually starts in the evening, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over fire singing “my sickly yellow paleness be yours; your fiery
red color be mine”. This means they want the fire to take away their sickness and problems, and in turn give them redness and energy.