Fire, Mirrors, and WindowsPosted March 22, 2023
Fires, Mirrors, and Windows
By Jen Andrews
A crackling fire may remind you of fall and winter’s chill, but I will always associate it with spring.
My father was a first-generation immigrant from Iran. Some of my favorite holidays are the spring holidays I learned to celebrate from my father and his side of the family. These occasions are not Muslim; rather, their roots are in ancient Persia, the solar calendar, and Zoroastrianism, and they are celebrated by people across religions in parts of Asia and the Iranian diaspora.
One of my very favorite celebrations occurs on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year. It is called Chaharshanbeh Suri, Red Wednesday. Families and friends gather to share yummy treats and jump over bonfires. Yes, that’s right. The young, the old, and everybody in between jump over three fires to cast off all the negatives of the previous year and gain strength, vitality, and energy from the fire. As we jump the fires, we chant, “Sorkhieh to as man, zardieh man as to,” meaning “Take my yellow, give me your red.” The way my Dad explained it to me, you are saying to the fire, “Take my regrets, my worries, cowardice, and weakness and give me your bravery, your courage, your wisdom, and your vitality.” My family in Los Angeles jumps the three bonfires every year, and all ages participate. My 90-year-old auntie might leap next to the fire; my cousin’s baby (in someone’s loving arms) has made the trip as well. Here, where the weather is far from spring-like yet, my family at home jumps over votive candles in our living room or on the driveway, weather permitting. I love this idea of casting off any negativity from the previous year as it winds down and exchanging it for all kinds of powerful positivity.
Growing up in Minnesota, I was quite alone in my celebration of Persian New Year. And really, in the eighties, being from a different culture wasn’t that cool. I didn’t really appreciate our “weird food,” and I was embarrassed by my Dad’s accent. But what I want to do now, as a teacher, is make sure that the children I teach feel valued, loved, and worthy not in spite of, but because of their heritage.
One of the concepts that really stuck with me from a recent professional development training was the idea of providing “mirrors and windows” in the classroom. Students need to see themselves in their environment: boys, girls, and families that look and sound like them, offering them “mirrors” and affirming who they are. But perhaps just as importantly, they need to see through “windows” into worlds that are different from theirs: boys and girls and families that look different, do things differently, and celebrate different things. Having the opportunity to encounter a variety of people in this way, with adults who are open to observing and exploring differences together, allows children to develop positive rather than negative or isolating mindsets around those differences.
That’s why I decided to bring Chaharshanbeh Suri to my classroom. For me, it’s a mirror, but for this group of toddlers in the Winter Room, it is a window not just into my family, but a celebration from across the globe important to millions of people. To do this with the toddlers in a school-setting, I crafted three small “fires” out of paper and I chanted as they jumped. They were so excited to join in the jumping! I was glad they all wanted to try. Their unique styles of jumping were on display, each one different and each one celebrated.
Will they remember this occasion, that one day that we jumped over tiny construction paper “fires” in the square? Perhaps not. But judging from the smiles and excited cries of “Me! Me!,” this was a positive experience of a tradition that isn’t theirs. I hope providing this window and other windows for our class this year helps create a foundation of approaching differences with a lens of curiosity rather than negativity or suspicion. I love the joy this holiday brings. And what is more life-affirming than joy?
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