Naz Banoo Pahlavi is a freelance writer living in Santa Monica. Write to her by e-mail at [email protected] THE diversity of the San Fernando Valley leads us to unexpected finds – none of which is more beautiful than the view from the top of Mulholland, where all four corners of the Valley glitter in one breathtaking patchwork. Tuesday night, this lighted landscape was even brighter due to the observance of a fiery ancient Iranian tradition by the purported 200,000 Iranians who call the Valley their home. Chahr Shanbeh Souri, or feast of Wednesday, is marked by jumping over pots of fire, a symbolic act that represents purification and renewal. This is the first event celebrated in anticipation of the spring equinox, or Norooz, the first of the Iranian New Year. Norooz pre-dates both Islamic and Iran’s indigenous Zoroastrian religion by about 15,000 years. The holiday has origins in the principal pagan belief systems of the Persian and Mesopotamian areas. The spring equinox was particularly significant to the ancient Persians because of its agricultural significance. Spring marked the coming of the harvest. For Olga Geevargis, a manager at Macy’s in Sherman Oaks, life in the Valley mimics the diversity of growing up in Iran. In Teheran, Olga spoke Assyrian at home, Farsi at school and Armenian with her best friends. In addition to the setting of the Haft Seen, or customary Norooz table, Geevargis makes traditional Assyrian dishes and reads passages from the Bible with her family. Mina Najmi, a recent Valley migr who works as a beautician in Encino, observes Norooz within her Bahai faith. This includes a 19-day fast that culminates in two celebrations – one that marks the end of the fast, and one that marks the start of the New Year. Pastor Ershadi is a female Christian convert who leads a congregation of about 70 Iranians in the Church of the Way’s Van Nuys campus. “Some think that (since) we are Christian, we aren’t Iranian. We are Iranian. We honor Iranian soil and the Iranian flag, although not the current Islamic one.” There are also some general customs common to most Iranians, including cleaning house, giving alms to the poor, visiting elders and exchanging gifts. Most important is the setting of the Haft Seen table. This includes seven symbolic items each beginning with the letter “s”. This time of year is especially busy for local Iranian grocery stores that stock up on supplies for the Haft Seen. Q Market in Van Nuys, for example, sells sumac, hyacinth flowers, garlic and trebizond dates, all of which are required “s” components. They also sell extras such as imported pastries from Iran and eggs painted with the face of Haji Firooz, the red-dressed and black-faced messenger who welcomes Norooz with the jingle-jangle of his tambourine. One of the most important items of the Haft Seen is the sabzeh, or sprouted wheat. This tradition dates back to ancient times when Iranians harvested wheat, barley or lentils and waited 13 days after Norooz to determine the best crop to harvest in the new year. The tradition continues when Iranians gather at Lake Balboa on Sunday, April 1. This is a gathering open to the public where revelers enjoy friends and family, good food and music while exchanging wishes of good health and prosperity. The event culminates the celebratory events of the Norooz season.