Mehregān (Persian:مهرگان) or Jashn-e-Mehregān is
an ancient Iranian autumn festival, observed on the ninth or tenth of
October, and dedicated in honor of Mehr, also known as Mithra, the
Persian god of Light and Love. It is a celebration of thanksgiving
between family and friends, and charity to the poor. The festival
symbolically ends with bonfires and fireworks.
There are many accounts as to the beginning of Mehregān. A few,
different versions are listed below: Mehregān is a day of victory when
Angels helped Fereydun and Kāveh become victorious over Zahhāk. They
imprisoned and chained him to the mountain of Damāvand. Mehregān is the
day God gave light to the world, that had previously been dark. On this
day Mashya and Mashyana (a concept of Semitic Adam and Eve) were
created. On this day the sun was created. Among all Iranian festivities,
the two most important feasts were considered to be Norouz and Mehregān.
During the time when the Avestan calendar was used, the year began at
the cold season. The Christian year also starting in the cold season,
follows the same concept as the Avestan calendar.
Some scholars believe that the month of Mehr was the beginning month of
the calendar year during the Achaemenian era. The Mehregan feast
celebrated the beginning of a new year. Later, Mehregān was especially
important for the people of southern Iran who considered it still to be
In some form or another, the feast day of Mehregān has always been
honored for many hundreds of years in Iran. Mehr is also the time of
Mehr in Avestan is Mitra and in Middle Persian Mihr. In modern Persian,
it has become Mehr. Although it can be slightly confusing, it should be
remembered the word Mehr has been used for a God, an angel, a symbol of
the sun, as well as the seventh month of the Iranian calendar.
During the Achaemenian period, the name of the God Mehr was mentioned
many times on the stone carvings. The Achaemenian army always came
behind a flag, depicting Mehr as the sun shining. Mehregān was
celebrated in an extravagant style at Persepolis. Not only was it the
time for harvest, but it was also the time when the taxes were
collected. Visitors from different parts of the empire brought gifts for
the king all contributing to a lively festival.
The ancient Iranians thought Mehr (Mithra)
was responsible for love and friendship, contracts and covenants, and a
representation for light. Later, Mehr was also considered as a symbol of
the sun. There again, Mehr was considered to be a God of heroism and
warfare. The Iranian soldiers were strong believers and had songs for
Mehr. With expansion of Achaemenian Empire, the worship of Mehr was
taken to other countries.
By the first century A.D., Mithraism was a familiar religion in Rome and
gradually spread throughout Western Europe as far as the northern
England. Many people converted to this Iranian-originated belief, since
it was religion of ethics, hope, courage and generosity. Archeological
excavations throughout Europe and Iran's neighboring countries have
uncovered the buried remains of many Mehr temples. The style of these
temples was main inspiration for a number of the ancient churches of
Some of Roman Emperors converted to Mithraism. One emperor, Julian the
Apostate, became a devoted follower of Mitra, and decided to go to
Persia (Iran) to visit the country from which his God was originated. En
route he was murdered. As he lay dying, he threw his blood towards the
sun and said this is my gift to you [Mithra].
There are still many rituals, traditions, beliefs and prayers of Mithra
that have survived the popularity of Christianity. Some of these can be
found in the Christian religion, such as the holy day, Sunday. This is a
day that was named after the sun i.e. Mehr. Some other Christmas
traditions are described in the section on the celebration of Yalda.
A Persian Thanksgiving
There is nothing more pleasurable than
combining cultures, traditions and tastes. Thanksgiving has always
provided the perfect opportunity for this as it is a non-religious
holiday and very much intune with the traditions of old Persian culture:
to forgive, and to give thanks for one's family and friends.
During Pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran, Mehregan was celebrated with
the same magnificence and pageantry as Norouz. It was customary for
people to send or give their king, and each other gifts. It was common
for people to give presents that they personally liked themselves! Rich
people usually gave gold and silver coins, heroes and warriors gave
horses while others gave gifts according to their ability, even an
apple. Those fortunate enough, will help the poor with gifts.
Gifts over ten thousand gold coins given to the royal court were
registered. At a later time, if the gift-giver needed money, the court
would then return twice the gift amount. Kings gave two audiences a
year; one audience at Norouz and other at Mehregān. During the Mehregān
celebrations, the king wore a fur robe and gave away all his summer
Many times, even today when a child is born on Mehregān, the parents
will name the child with a name starting with Mehr such as Mehr-dokht or
Mehr-dād or Mehr-bānu or Mehr-Nāz.
After the Mongol invasion of Iran, the feast celebration of Mehregān
lost its popularity. Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kermān continued to
celebrate Mehregān in an extravagant way.
For this celebration, the participants wear new clothes and set a
decorative, colorful table. The sides of the tablecloth are decorated
with dry wild marjoram. The holy book Avesta, a mirror and Sormeh Dan
(antimony cellar) are placed on the table together with rose water,
sweets, flowers, vegetables and fruits, especially pomegranates and
apples. A few silver coins and senjed seeds (fruit of the lotus tree)
are placed in a dish of pleasant smelling wild marjoram water. Almonds
and pistachio are also used.
A burner is also part of the table setting for kondor (frankincense) and
espand (rue seeds) to be thrown on the flames.
At lunch time when the ceremony begins, everyone in the family stands in
front of the mirror to pray. Sherbet is drunk and then as a good omen,
antimony is rubbed around their eyes. Handfuls of wild marjoram, senjed
seeds and noghl (sugar plum) are thrown over each others heads while
they embrace one another.
In some of the villages in Yazd, Zoroastrians still sacrifice sheep for
Mehr. These sacrifices are done on the day of Mehregān and for three
days afterwards. The sacrifice should be done during the hours of
sunlight. The sheep is placed on three stones in the furnace,
representing the good words, good deeds and good thoughts, and
barbecued. After this special ritual, the sheep, including the skin and
fat is taken to the fire temple'. The fat is thrown on the fire to make
the flames burn fiercely and then the participants pray. This
celebration continues for the next five days.