Persian (Iranian) Culture Mackenzie Tatham, Com 180

Many people are unfamiliar with Persian (Iranian) culture. You may know of Iran for their intricate rugs, Persian cats, the Persian Empire, or even their food, but at some point you probably have run into some part of Persian culture.

The capital of Iran, Tehran, is the largest city in the country.

Persian culture focuses a lot on their rich history. Their history dates back all the way to early Mesopotamia and the times of the Persian Empire under Cyrus II. Under the ruling of Cyrus II, the Persian Empire grew to be the largest empire the world had ever seen. The size, strength, and impact of the Empire is something many Iranians are proud of and boast in their culture. Alexander the Great of Greece later conquered the Empire, destroying most of the books, libraries, and parts of the history of Persia. Finally, the Arabs eventually invaded the Empire as well, and the people of Persia had to make a decision. They could either adopt the new culture of the Arabs or fight to preserve their lost culture. This is a main reason why Persian (Iranian) history is so important, in order to continue passing on the traditions and cultural beliefs that their ancestors fought so hard to preserve.

The Persian War
Aryans were the original inhabitant of what is now Iran. Although they never actual called themselves Aryans, by the time of the Persian Empire they had been named "Persian". states, "Aryan by definition meant anyone speaking any of the Indo-European languages". This is most commonly confused with the Nazi term for Ayran that Hitler used during World War II and the Holocaust, which has no relation to the Persian "Aryan".

The Aryans later split into three groups, one staying in modern day Iran, the second migrating to what is now India, and the third went west into Europe. These three separate groups all originated from the same culture, while merging with the new cultures along the way. For example the Aryans who moved into India merged with the cultures of the Nepalese and Chinese, while those who remained in Iran merged with the cultures of the Arabs. This is an example of cultural-group history, that we learned about in Chapter 3 of our text.

A traditional Persian dish includes Basmati rice, some form of protein, and vegetables. Pictured is kabob bareh (کباب بره), a roasted lamb kabob.

Food is another main part of Persian (Iranian) culture. Many Persian dishes have been influenced by the countries and cultures that surround Iran, but mainly focus around fruits, nuts and herbs, spices , tea and caviar which are the main exports of the country. Persian meals can take days to prepare and everyone in the family aids in the preparation, presentation, and cleanup of the meals. Food is a way of bringing everyone together and days can revolve around a single meal.

Another traditional Persian dish, Koobideh (کوبیده), a lamb/beef kabob.
Fesenjan (فسنجان), a walnut and pomegranate stew with duck.
Tea (چای) is an important part to Persian (Iranian) culture. Families come home at lunch to have tea and spend time together, and tea houses are a common place that people spend time at. Tea is a social activity, similar to how many people go out to bars or get coffee. Friends and family go out to tea rooms to enjoy each others company, as well as indulging in sweets (cookies and cakes), hookah, and of course tea.

My boyfriend, Andisheh (Andy), is Persian so I have been immersed in the cultural for a few years now through him and his family, but still am fairly new to many of the traditions and holidays they celebrate. I interviewed my boyfriend, who's parents immigrated from Iran in the 70's. His father was a political refugee who sought asylum in the US during the early 70's, and eventually fully immigrated here with my boyfriends mother. "Growing up with parents who were not from the United States, while growing up and living in the United States definitely wasn't easy for me", he states, "many traditions and habits that my friends would have or celebrate, my family didn't, so it was hard for me to understand why at such a young age". He told me about how his family wouldn't celebrate holidays like Easter or even Christmas, simply because of how they were celebrated differently in Iran. Although Iran is a predominantly Muslim country, his parents were both non religious, which Andy says really helped shape who he has become. "My parents never pushed religion on me in any form, my dad gave me a bible when I was maybe ten and said to read it and see how I feel. They let me decide what I wanted to believe in, so in a sense, I never really developed any feelings towards religion in general". He never developed a spiritual identity, as we discussed in Chapter 5 of the text. "Poetry and philosophy, especially the Hafez; are very important to Persian culture, especially my family. This is because the poems and readings take place of religious texts one might find in other cultures and we adopt our morals, traditions, and ethics from those texts", he states. Andy says that even though it has been difficult at times, growing up such a rich culture, "I believe the best part of Persian culture is the acceptance and togetherness. I like the rich history and easily accessible community". He says that he always feels like the Persian community is tightly knit and so accepting to anyone willing to listen to their history and experience their culture!

Iran is a predominately Muslim country.

For my event I attended Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz (عيد نوروز). Nowruz is the celebration of the new year in Iran, different from the new year's celebration we celebrate on December 31st/January 1st. Nowruz is the first day of spring and the start of the new year. The origin is from ancient times when citizens were forced to live under terrible winter conditions until spring when the crops would thrive. So, in order to celebrate the growth etc, Nowruz was created. At Nowruz, you can find tables adorned with platters and glasses filled with things such as fruits and saffron. The table for Nowruz is called "Haftseen" which directly translates to 7 "S"'s. Its a table of 7 important things that all start with S: sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth

Samanu (سمنو) – a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat – symbolizing affluence

Senjed (سنجد)– the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love

Sir (آقا) – garlic – symbolizing medicine

Sib (سیب ها)– apples – symbolizing beauty and health

Somagh (سماق) – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise

Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience. (

A traditional Nowruz (عيد نوروز) haftseen (هفت سین).
A tradition for new years, jumping over a fire is a metaphor for burning away the mistakes of last year and starting fresh for the new one

I attended a Nowruz festival in Liberty Station's NTC park, held by the Persian Cultural Center of San Diego. The festival was large and included a music stage and many different Iranian restaurant stands serving foods like koobideh (کوبیده) and ash (خاکستر), a kind of vegetable soup, and tea. Friends and family would grab food and tea and stand around or sit on blankets, just enjoying each others company and celebrating the new year. As a sort of outsider to Persian (Iranian) culture, it's abnormal for me to attended a festival or gathering that had such little to do. I think many times we often dread siting around with family or friends and doing nothing but talking at a party. We're always on our phones or looking for something to entertain us, but the culture of Iran centers around many activities that heavily influence family and social interaction, and those apart of the culture enjoy it! It was refreshing to see so many people simply enjoying each others company and just celebrating together. The environment was extremely welcoming and with every person I met, I started to feel more and more like a part of the culture!

A traditional street market in Tehran, Iran.

We have some many cultures we're around everyday, from our friends, coworkers, or even family members. I encourage everyone to step out and experience and educate yourself on a culture close to you. Step into someone else's shoes and try a culture other than your own. It will really help to broaden the way you think and see the world.

Iraniran flag


Martin, Judith, and Thomas Nakayama. Intercultural Communication in Contexts. 5th ed. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. Print.

"Persians Are Not Arabs." Persians Are Not Arabs. N.p., n.d. Web.

Tahriri, Andisheh. Personal interview.

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