(The Associated Press runs an article on this event, annually—as they should. Click here for the 2013 story, as posted at Huffington Post, which features 24 pictures and a video called “Learn About Zoroastrianism.” Following is the AP story from 2010…)
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Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 31, 2010; 12:17 PM
CHAM, Iran — Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.
Saturday’s celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran’s once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country’s ancient traditions.
The festival, known as Sadeh, celebrates the discovery of fire and its ability to banish the cold and dark, and it is held in the frigid depths of winter.
Sadeh was the national festival of ancient Persia when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, before the conquest of Islam in the 7th century. Now it is mostly celebrated just in the homes and temples of Iran’s 60,000 remaining Zoroastrians.
Recently, however, there has been an upsurge of interest among Iranian Muslims – more than 90 percent of the population – in their ancient heritage, when vast Persian empires held sway over much of central Asia and fought Greek warriors and Roman legions.
“I’m proud of Sadeh because it is part of Iran’s cultural heritage,” said Mohammed Saleh Khalili, a Muslim Iranian who traveled from Meibod, a town in central Iran, to join the celebrations. “Once it was a national festival and for centuries it has been restricted to Zoroastrians but there is no reason why Muslim Iranians shouldn’t celebrate the event.”
Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion predating Christianity and Islam and is believed to have influenced those faiths – and Judaism as well – being one of the first religions with a strong notion of good and evil.