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Nowruz celebrations take root on the Sunshine Coast

On a patch of sun-warmed stones near the mouth of Roberts Creek, dozens of adults and children gathered on March 12 to take part in an ancient tradition newly introduced to the stretch of waterfront.
Persian New Year organizer Kia Zahrabi takes a break from feeding the fires at the Chaharshanbe Suri fire jumping ceremony in Roberts Creek.

On a patch of sun-warmed stones near the mouth of Roberts Creek, dozens of adults and children gathered on March 12 to take part in an ancient tradition newly introduced to the stretch of waterfront. One by one, spectators became participants, hopscotching through the flames of three cedar-fed fires crackling three metres apart. 

The Chaharshanbe Suri fire jumping ceremony, which originated in about 1700 BCE, is part of Persian New Year celebrations organized this month by Creek resident Kia Zahrabi. Last year, he observed Nowruz (originally a Zoroastrian faith celebration timed to coincide with the spring equinox) with a small gathering of friends and family. For 2024, he decided to share its traditions of purification and renewal with the community at large. 

“We had a Persian feast and music performances under tents at our place last year,” said Zahrabi. “That was like my little small crack at it. And now I’ve decided to do four events.” 

Zahrabi, who was born in Canada, is the son of Iranian immigrants. While growing up he observed that his family quietly subdued its own heritage in order to conform to mainstream culture. “As a kid, we grew up celebrating Christmas because everybody else did,” he said. “But it’s not part of our practice, and the Persian New Year, Noruz, was always a celebration in our family. I’m trying to reclaim that a bit more in my older years where I’d like to share this with other people.” 

Before making their purifying passage through the flames, Chaharshanbe Suri practitioners traditionally speak or sing the Farsi expression sorkhi-ye to az man, zardi-ye man az. The words invite the fire to fill jumpers with its red-hot vigour while consuming any lukewarm superficiality they carry. 

Zahrabi coordinated a screening of the 2022 film The Voice of Dust and Ash at the Roberts Creek Community Hall on March 7, attracting an audience of more than 40 people. The documentary tells the story of musician Mohammad Reza Shajarian, who defied Iran’s ban on music that resulted in artists being exiled, imprisoned, and executed. 

The fire jumping ceremony, traditionally held on the last Tuesday night before the spring equinox, is intentionally multigenerational, Zahrabi explained. “Creating these fun memories for kids is actually one of the big joys I get out of it,” he said. 

He is planning a celebration of Iranian music and visual art for a ticketed Persian New Year party at the Roberts Creek Hall on Saturday, March 23. Creek-based multidisciplinary artist Amir Aziz will exhibit his work at the event. Aziz heads up an immersive media company that is currently finalizing two immersive planetarium movies about the poetry of 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi. Vancouver-based composer Alvand Jalali (whose film music was nominated at the 2019 Cannes film festival) will also perform as part of a four-member ensemble. 

Proceeds from the event will benefit artists living in Iran, Zahrabi added. Traditional Persian food and drinks — including rosewater and pomegranate juice — will be served. 

One week later, on March 31, Zahrabi has scheduled a free community celebration of Sizdah Be-Dar, an opportunity for family and friends to gather and picnic near a body of flowing water. At ?iyuls (Cliff Gilker) Park, attendees will tie a knot in sprouted wheatgrass (known as sabzeh) and release the sprig into the water. The act symbolizes an embrace of springtime and renewal. 

“I have some Persian friends that live here and that are coming in from the city,” said Zahrabi. “But generally speaking, I wanted to make this open for everyone to learn, even as I’m finding actually that Persian people on the Coast are coming out of the woodwork.” 

Detailed information and tickets for Nowruz events can be found by browsing to the Coast Cultural Alliance event calendar at