CORONA DEL MAR TODAY
They came with drums, with pots of tea and more pots filled with a noodle soup called ash. They also came loaded with firewood — allowed for one night only — all part of Persian New Year celebrations at Big Corona State Beach on Tuesday.
“We have a pot luck party,” said Sarah Zohary, 8 1/2, of Tustin. “When it becomes night, we jump over the fire. When I was small, I thought I’d get burned up. But you don’t feel the heat.”
As many as 4,000 visitors attend Persian New Year celebrations at the beach’s 27 fire rings every year. Groups arrived as early as 5 p.m. to stake a ring for their friends and family, and by 7 p.m. most of the rings were blazing.
Part of the New Year tradition is to jump over the flames while saying in Farsi, “My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine.” Grandmothers and babies and everyone in between participated. When they weren’t jumping, they were eating, visiting and singing to Persian music played on radios.
“I’m amazed,” she said. “I’m really stunned.”
Farah Ranjbar of Irvine said she’d been celebrating at Big Corona for at least 10 years, skipping one year when her son was an infant.
Nima Shahin is now 2 1/2, and he and a friend were playing in the sand and eating noodle soup around a burning fire.
“He loves it,” Ranjibar said. “He loves the music. He’s mesmerized. He’s having a blast.”
The Persian New Year holiday dates back thousands of year, and its traditional celebrations are tied to the prophet Zoroaster. The holiday has been celebrated at Big Corona for more than two decades, although the traditional fires do not need to be at the beach. Many participants said they have, in the past, jumped over matches in a metal dish in their childhood kitchens, or over a small fire in an aluminum dish set on a driveway.
Newport Beach Police Department’s two Farsi-speaking officers were on hand, as usual, to assist visitors who needed help.
“This is probably the largest gathering of people who are calm ever in Newport Beach,” said Officer Todd Vinson. There had been no problem by early evening, and over the past several years the event has been low-key.
Several visitors questioned whether they would be limited to burning charcoal in the rings because of a new city ordinance that bans wood and other fuel sources. Wood fires were allowed tonight, officials said, although charcoal-only rules will be enforced next week, at least for a few months until either the state Senate weighs in, or the city gets Coastal Commission approval to relocate and remove some rings.
A group called Friends of the Fire Ring also has sued to protect the rings. On Tuesday, Friends of the Fire Rings representative Doug Swardstrom wandered the crowd, handing out hundreds of fliers that invited the crowd to support their cause.
“These fire rings are an important part of a number of cultures,” he said. “This could be the last Nowruz in Newport Beach.”
Swardstrom crossed paths with Corona del Mar couple Frank and Barbara Peters, who have been vocal opponents of fire rings because of the dangers of wood smoke.
“At least the wind’s blowing the other direction,” Barbara Peters said, indicating that the wind was blowing smoke away from her home.
The fire rings could be unchanged next March, or there could be far fewer rings for celebrations.
Those gathered around the fires said if they removed some of the rings by next year, they’d crowd around the remaining rings with strangers.
“That’s what we’ve done before — this was the first year we’ve had our own ring,” Ranjbar said. “Oh I hope they don’t take the fire pits away. I want Nima to keep coming here when he’s older, when he’s a teen-ager. I hope he can.”