Mehregān (Persian: مهرگان or Mithra Festival) is a Zoroastrian and Persian festival celebrated to honor the yazata Mithra (Persian: Mehr), which is responsible for friendship, affection, and love. It is also widely referred to as the Persian Festival of Autumn.
According to The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism (2015), it was originally a feast honoring the Persian god Mithra. By the 4th century BC, it was observed as one of the name-day feasts, a form it remains in today. Still, in a predominantly Muslim Iran, it is one of the two pre-Islamic festivals that continue to be celebrated by the public at large: Mehrgān, dedicated to Mithra (modern Mehr), and Tirgan, dedicated to Tishtrya (modern Tir).
Mehrgān 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 Persian Empire brought gifts for the king all contributing to a lively festival.
During pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran, Mehrgān was celebrated with the same magnificence and pageantry as Nowruz. It was customary for people to send or give their king, and each other, gifts. Rich people usually used to give gold and silver coins, heroes and warriors would give horses while others used to give gifts according to their financial power and ability, even as simple as an apple. Those fortunate enough would help the poor with gifts.
After the Mongol invasion of Iran, the feast celebration of Mehrgān lost its popularity. Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kermān continued to celebrate Mehrgān 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 marjoram. A copy of the Khordeh Avesta (“little Avesta”), a mirror and a sormeh-dan (a traditional eyeliner or kohl) are placed on the table together with rose water, sweets, flowers, vegetables and fruits, especially pomegranates and apples, and nuts such as almonds or pistachios. A few silver coins and lotus seeds are placed in a dish of water scented with marjoram extract.
At lunch time when the ceremony begins, everyone in the family stands in front of the mirror to pray. Sharbat is drunk and then—as a good omen—sormeh is applied around the eyes. Handfuls of wild marjoram, lotus, and sugar plum seeds are thrown over one another’s heads while they embrace one another.
In the 1960s the Postal Service in Tehran issued a series of stamps to commemorate Mehrgan Festival.
The relationship between Mehregān and the various calendars is perhaps better understood relative to Nowruz. When (relative to another calendar) the first day of the year occurs is subject to interpretation, but independent of when it occurs, Mehregān is celebrated 195 days after that, that is on the 196th day of the year.