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Home » National Celebrations of Iran » New Year's Call and Gifts, Persia 1895
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New Year's Call and Gifts, Persia 1895
Islamic History Sourcebook: Samuel G. Wilson

In sleeping rich and poor alike lie on the floor. The bedding, which consists of a short mattress, a round pillow, and coverlets, is folded up and placed in a recess by day. In summer many of the people sleep on the roofs, rising when the sun disturbs them. The social habit, which is so universally exemplified at Noruz, is a striking trait of the Persian character. One of the social institutions of great attraction is the tea-house. The tea-houses are of various grades. Some are rudely furnished, with merely a raised platform which surrounds the sides of the room, and is covered with matting or carpet. Others have an air of comfort imparted to them by divans, mirrors, chandeliers, etc. With tea at half a cent a glass, and one pipeful of tobacco sufficing for a crowd, it is no wonder loafers seek them and business men make appointments in them. The common pipe, cigarettes, and the Bateau or water-pipe are much used. In the latter the smoke passes through the water and is drawn into the lungs. Lemon-juice and other flavors are sometimes mixed with the water.

The ordinary kalean is about two feet high. It consists of a vase capable of holding about a quart of water, a top about the size of a goblet, in which burning charcoal and dampened tobacco are placed, a wooden tube which supports the top on the vase, and a mouthpiece or stem about twenty inches long. The support and stem are turned on the lathe, in various ornamental designs. The vase and bowl are of glass, stone, china, brass, or silver, and are set with turquoises or other jewels, and carved, enameled, and decorated with pictures of the shah, flowers, and similar objects.

Another place of social resort and gossip is the bathhouse. Custom and religion require frequent ablutions. For the men, with their dyeing of the hair and nails with henna, scraping the flesh with tufa, etc., the bath is a frequent necessity, and no less so for the women, whose hair-dressing, dyeing of eyelashes, etc., require so much time and attention. The bath-houses are below the level of the street, so as to be supplied with water. The arched domes are lighted through slabs of alabaster. One may know when he is near the bath-house by the long rows of colored towels hung on the street walls. The fuel used is weeds, thorn-bushes, straw, dried manure, bones, carcasses, or any other rubbish, and the odor inside and out is sometimes very offensive. The atmosphere of the vaulted room is very hot, as in the case of the Turkish bath. The water in the plunge-tank is changed only once in two or three months, and is consequently a prolific breeder of disease.

The Persian has few kinds of amusement. His theater is the "Takia " or passion-play of Muharram; his lyceum lecturers are the dervishes on the street corner, and the poets and marseyakhan in the residences of the rich. Singers, musicians, and dancers are adjuncts of weddings and other feasts. The Persian gentleman does not dance. A prince, seeing some European noblemen dancing, expressed his surprise, saying, "Why do you exert yourselves so much? In Persia we hire people to dance for us." No violent games of ball and no severe gymnastics are in vogue, except for the pehlavans or wrestlers. Horse-racing and hunting are favorite amusements, chess, checkers, and backgammon are old and standard games. Cards are being introduced throughout the entire country, and gambling is unhappily prevalent.

The custom of giving presents is universal. A person returning home brings a sogat or present to each of his relatives and friends. The custom is so binding that some men unwillingly go in debt to avoid a breach of it, and others stay away from home from inability to do what is expected of them. Gifts of dainties from the table, of the first-fruits from the orchard, and of loaves of fresh bread are sent from friend to friend. Formal tokens of commendation from a superior are greatly prized. The shah yearly sends a khallat or robe of honor to each governor on the renewal of his appointment. Its bearer is an important official. He is met by the governor at a villa called khallat-pashan, where the latter puts on his robe. Its style and elegance indicate the degree of appreciation intended to be shown It is a high honor for a royal person to give another a robe which he himself has worn. When the crown prince wished to show his appreciation of Dr. Holmes by presenting him with a robe of honor, he first wore it himself a few days.

Certain other presents may be regarded as taxes. Such are the large amounts sent by the governors to the shah at Noruz. Of a similar nature are those sent to local officials by subjects and by foreign residents, as a recognition of obligation for civil protection. On the receipt of such a gift it is customary to give the bearer a sum of money, showing appreciation of the gift and its sender. Fees, tips, and anams are very common. Peeshkesh is a gift to a superior, and is generally made with the idea of procuring an equivalent in cash, favor, or influence. Baksheesh is a freewill offering to and inferior.



From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. II: India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, pp. 430-444.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg

Note: Many Western sources about Islamic countries exhibit what has come to be known as orientalism. The terms used ("Mohammedan" for instance rather than "Muslim"), and the attitudes exhibited by the writers need to be questioned by modern readers.

This text is part of the Internet Islamic History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

© Paul Halsall, November1998


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