Sizdah Bedar and April Fool’s Day

The first of April coincides with what seems to be a broad Indo-European tradition of pranking one’s fellow man a few days after the start of Spring. April Fool’s Day takes on many forms in Europe as well as those nations where European colonials brought their customs with them, but they all involve playing tricks on family and friends. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that Spanish-speaking nations have a prank festival on December 28th, not April 1st, in commemoration of Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents after the birth of Jesus. That seems like an odd choice for a feast day devoted to pranking people, but at least they know why they celebrate it; the origins of April Fool’s Day are unclear to say the least. It may go back to the Roman festival of Hilaria, which honored Mother Earth for the arrival of another Spring, or its origins may be found in medieval European literature (possibly the Canterbury Tales) or in the movement to change the calendar to make January 1st New Year’s Day (the idea being that adopters of the new calendar ridiculed those who continued to celebrate the end of New Year’s Week on April 1st).

Sizdah Bedar (سیزده بدر), which translates as something like “Thirteen, get out” or “Thirteen passes by” is a holiday celebrated by Iranians on the thirteenth day after Nowruz, which in the modern Solar Hijri calendar is the thirteenth day of the month of Farvardin. Because the exact date of Nowruz is determined by astrological observation, Sizdah Bedar may fall on either April 1st or April 2nd. Thirteen being associated with bad luck, the holiday is based on the idea of expunging as much ill fortune as possible in order to get past the thirteenth day of the year without misfortune. Customarily, observances of the holiday involve getting out of the house, and heading to the countryside to picnic and otherwise enjoy nature. The sabzeh (greens, usually sprouting grasses) that were kept on the traditional Nowruz Haft Sin table will be thrown into running water (river, stream, something) on Sizdah Bedar, the idea being that they have collected a family’s bad luck, illness, and general misfortunes for the coming year and must be thrown out to get rid of those things. Competitive games are played, bundles of grasses and/or fresh herbs may be made. Another tradition, Durugh-i Sizdah, “the lie of thirteen,” involves lying to a mark and trying to convince him or her that the lie is true; in other words, pranking them.

The origins of Sizdah Bedar are certainly pre-Islamic, similar to Hilaria in the sense that it helped to mark the passage of the seasons and the survival of another winter, and to begin the new year in happiness and good fortune through laughter. Its observance seems to have waned somewhat after the Islamic conquest of Iran in the 7th century, at least in official circles and if the observations of European travelers to Iran are assumed to be accurate. It’s once again widely celebrated today.

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