AP PHOTOS: Iran fire festival marks end of winter

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians jumped over bonfires, threw firecrackers and floated wishing lanterns to celebrate an ancient festival marking the end of the Persian year, ignoring calls by many Islamic clerics to shun a ritual that has officially been denounced as pagan.

The celebration, known as "Chaharshanbe Souri," or Wednesday Feast, was celebrated late Tuesday and is a pre-Islamic tradition in Iran, marking the eve of the last Wednesday of the solar Persian year. March 21, the first day of spring, marks Nowruz, the beginning of the year 1393 on the Persian calendar.

The Persian fire-jumping festival symbolizes an opportunity to purify the soul for the coming new year and celebrate the end of winter. Celebrations for Chaharshanbe Souri last until midnight Tuesday, as Iranians of all ages light bonfires, set off firecrackers and dance in streets, parks and other public.

The festival has been frowned upon by hard-liners since the 1979 Islamic revolution because they consider it a symbol of Zoroastrianism, one of Iran's ancient religions of Iranians. They say it goes against Islamic traditions.

But police mainly stood by watching rather than trying to disperse the crowds on the streets of the capital. The celebration is one of the few non-religious remaining events on the Persian calendar.

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