13 Unlucky for Iranians, Too

Posted: 4/3/2014 3:48:57 EDT

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians flocked to parks rich with the smell of grilled kebabs on Wednesday to toss around Frisbees, bat badminton birdies and battle one another in chess and backgammon — all to avoid being caught inside on the unlucky 13th day of the Persian New Year.

The annual public picnic day, called Sizdeh Bedar, which comes from the Farsi words for "thirteen" and "day out," is a legacy from Iran's pre-Islamic past that hard-liners in the Islamic Republic never managed to erase from calendars.

Many say it's bad luck to stay indoors for the holiday.

"I know a family who stayed in and later in the day the leg of their young boy was broken when he fell down the stairs." said Tehran resident Fatemeh Moshiri, 48.

Iranian hard-liners have tried unsuccessfully for decades to stamp out the festival and other pre-Islamic events, which are seen as closer to Zoroastrianism, the predominant faith of Iranians before Islam.

They have had little success.

"When we go out on Sizdeh Bedar, we take ill-omens out with us," Tehran resident Marzieh Rahimim, 64, said. "Otherwise a quarrel may happen or an invaluable dish may be broken."

Last week, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a Friday prayer leader, reiterated a common clerics' admonition that it is "superstitious" to believe that the 13th day of the new year is unlucky or to think that the popular practice of tying blades of grass together on the day will bring good fortune.

Enjoying nature is commendable, Khatami acknowledged, but he said people should nonetheless keep Islamic values in mind because the festival comes a day before Muslims remember the anniversary of the death of the daughter of Prophet Muhammad.

Islam has been dominant for centuries in Iran, but the country's Zoroastrian past has left its mark through festivals and traditions still celebrated to this day. The number of practicing Zoroastrians is a tiny minority in today's Iran, however — around 60,000 people out of a population of more than 76 million.

State media and calendar makers choose to call the festival "Nature Day" instead of Sizdeh Bedar, given the bad-luck associations with the number 13.

Families across the country spread rugs and set up small tents in outdoor areas to mark the holiday, sometimes just a few inches from their neighbors. They have lunch, sip cups of tea and munch on pistachios, fruit and candy.

Iranians also throw trays of sprouted seeds that have been sitting on their new year tables into running water to mark the occasion.

Young and old alike tie blades of grass together in the hope the year will be filled with happiness and prosperity. Young girls usually make wishes to get married as they tie the blades of grass.

"I tied the blades of grass when I was 17," remembered a smiling Sanam Rezaei, 68, as she sat alongside her husband Abdolali, 75, in a Tehran park. "This man — at that time a young man — approached me there and proposed."

"This can happen to my grandchildren too," she added, her eyes on a group of young people nearby. "We're still in love after half a century."

Unlike other countries in the Middle East, Iran follows the Persian solar year, which begins on the first day of spring. It is now the year 1393 in Iran, a date calculated from the migration of the Prophet Muhammad from the city of Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.

People in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Turkey, as well as other central Asian countries, also celebrate the festival.

Friends and relatives use the Sizdeh Bedar festival as an opportunity to meet up with friends they've not seen for some time. It is at the tail-end of the extended celebrations period for the Persian New Year, or Nowruz.

Sizdeh Bedar is one of two festive outdoor pre-Islamic celebrations in Iran. The other one, known as "Chaharshanbe Souri," is celebrated before Nowruz and involves jumping over bonfires and shooting off fireworks as an opportunity to purify the soul.

Pejman Mousavi, a columnist in the pro-reform Etemad daily newspaper, said Iranians see Sizdeh Bedar as a reason to be happy.

"This ancient celebration is now mainly a pretext for people to be happier," Mousavi said. "People widely welcome it while there is no official call for it."

The Power of 13 in the World

PARIS (AP) — It's unlucky to stay inside on the 13th day of the Iranian New Year, but fear surrounding the number 13 has chilled people for centuries around the world. The fear of the number even has its own psychological term coined in 1910: "Triskaidekaphobia."

From Friday the 13th, the Apollo 13 mission and even Judas' 13th seat at The Last Supper, here's a look at the power of the number 13 in history and popular culture:


The Last Supper's unlucky 13th seat:

In Western lore, experts believe the fear over 13 started in the Bible.

Some believe that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table — though the Christian text does not specify an order in which they gathered.

"It was first thought to be unlucky to seat 13 at a table because of the Bible story but after it developed that 13 was unlucky for anything," says Stuart Vyse, the author of "Believing in Magic: the Psychology of Superstition."

Vyse says that fears were consolidated in Norse mythology in the late 8th to the mid-11th centuries.

The evil Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston in Marvel's "Thor" movies, was according to Viking myth the 13th god in their pantheon. Also, death is the 13th card in a tarot deck.


Is it Friday or Tuesday the 13th?

The myth of the cursed Friday the 13th as immortalized in the cult slasher movie is a relatively new thing.

It's thought that already existing superstitions with the number's bad luck was merged with the bad association with Friday, the day people were traditionally hanged in Europe. For Christians, Friday is also the day Jesus was crucified.

Friday still chills in the West, though ironically enough, a study once claimed that in fact the number of car crashes went down, not up, on Friday the 13th as people stayed at home out of fear. In Greece, Mexico and Spain, it's Tuesday the 13th that's thought to be cursed.


Apollo 13:

The Apollo 13 lunar mission, subject of 1995's acclaimed Tom Hanks film, was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded.

Before the event, NASA and the crew's commander Jim Lovell brushed off the idea that Apollo 13 was a cursed mission over superstitions.

But numerologists had a field day over the mission's launch date that when written out — 4-11-70 — the individual digits add up to 13. It was also on April 13 that the tank exploded.


Air France doesn't have a 13th row:

Airlines such as Air France often have a 12th and 14th — but no 13th row. Many buildings in the U.S. don't have a 13th floor, and some airports are constructed without a gate 13.

Experts say that it's an economic decision — as customers would not spend money on something they thought was cursed. According to a Gallup poll that appeared in 2007 — spookily enough — 13 percent of Americans said they would be bothered if they were placed on the 13th floor.


It's 4 that's unlucky in China:

In Asia, 13 is just another number. And in China, it's the number 4 that provokes the most fear.

The phenomenon, known technically as "tetraphobia," exists because of linguistic reasons.

"In Chinese the number 4 sounds much like the word for 'death,'" says Patrick Alexander, a social anthropology lecturer at Oxford University. "As a result, the number 4 is often omitted in elevators and other public contexts."

The number 8 is particularly lucky in China and Japan because it sounds similar to "prosperity" or "wealth."


Follow Thomas Adamson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP.



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