IRAN: A festive spirit in the air as Iranians celebrate pre-Islamic holiday outdoors [Updated]
Iranians all over the country Friday celebrated Sizdah Bedar, the annual Persian holiday on the 13th day of the Persian calendar year, during which people head outside to celebrate nature and family.
But people marked the holidays in different ways.
In a park in or near the ethnic Azeri northwestern Iranian city of Orumieh, dozens of picnickers joined together in a protest march, chanting "Azerbaijan! Azerbaijan!" in a show of ethnic politics that must make the government nervous. (See video below)
At a park in western Tehran, men played backgammon or chess, while young women inside makeshift tents could be seen without their head scarves, in a gesture of defiance against the nation's Islamic order.
Young men smoked sheesha as families performed line dances while striking tambourines.
[Updated, 12:30 p.m. PST: Recently uploaded video from Tehran below captures the spirit of the day.
Nothing but people out enjoying themselves.]
Security forces were out as well, making sure the celebrations didn't turn into the type of anti-government protests they so fear, as the video below from the eastern city of Mashhad shows.
The Iranian Labor News Agency reported that security forces had assigned three helicopters (Persian) to scour Tehran's skies Friday. The reason? To fight traffic
"The police have a high-profile presence in order to ease traffic as part of measures to enhance public security," Police Col. Reza Qanilu told the news agency.
Few took the claim seriously. Pro-government news outlets and officials have taken to calling the 13th day of the Persian calendar month "The Day of Nature" instead of "Sizdah Bedar," in an attempt to rebrand it away from its pre-Islamic past and anticlerical undertones.
Some opposition supporters had called for people to turn the holiday into a protest of sorts. But there was very little evidence of any overtly political overtones to the day in Tehran. Instead, families took advantage of the holiday to enjoy the gorgeous weather.
Kites could be seen against a blue sky, with young people basking in sunshine and breezes.
Color and good cheer were the spirit of the day.
For some, that was enough of a protest.
"Watch people enjoy themselves to your dismay," one elderly man said, addressing the country's leadership.
Photos: Above, a young couple enjoys 13 Bedar at a park in Iran (Credit: Raouf Mohseni / Mehr News Agency). Below, Iranians at a picnic. (Credit: Iranian Labor News Agency).
Videos: A picnic turns into a protest march in western Iran, and footage of security forces in eastern Iran. Credit: YouTube