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Between Fire and Ice: Experiences of the Persian Fire Festival in a Nordic Setting

Department of Environmental Science and Tourism Studies, Södertörn University, 14189 Huddinge, Sweden
Department of Thematic Studies, Linköping University, 581 83 Linköping, Sweden
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2020, 12(24), 10374;
Submission received: 20 September 2020 / Revised: 4 December 2020 / Accepted: 7 December 2020 / Published: 11 December 2020


This exploratory research seeks to gain insight into the visitors of Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm, their motivation, level of satisfaction and loyalty to the festival. The overall methodology is mixed methods consisting of participant observation and 280 completed online surveys including close-ended and open-ended questions. A Grounded theory analysis has been employed. The most important reason behind the participation has been to strive for the recognition of ethnic cultural identity; to keep the ancient culture alive; to maintain their ancestors’ legacy and transfer it to the next generation. Most of the visitors experienced positive feelings, showed satisfaction and loyalty, believed that the festival fulfilled their expectations and it should be celebrated officially every year. A minority showed dissatisfaction mostly due to the lack of accessibility to the event venue and might are not loyal to the festival. The first conclusion here is that these motivators are totally different than those mentioned by earlier research (e.g., escape, socialization, novelty, rest, prestige, excitement). Even though the desire to preserve the ancient culture and tradition is very strong, a lack of accessibility to the venue would constitute disloyalty and a barrier to re-attend in such a festival.

1. Introduction

Cultural festivals play an important role in the current modern societies. They have positive impacts on the society and the community as whole, for locals, participants and tourists (see e.g., [1,2,3]). These impacts include economic benefits in terms of increased revenue from tourism together with increased social capital (see e.g., [4]), endogenous group formation among visitors (see e.g., [5]), and network resources for communities, locals and tourists, as well as cultural benefits in term of cultural encounter and maintenance of cultural heritage (see e.g., [6]). In this context, ethnic cultural festivals that are arranged by or for ethnic groups in Western multicultural societies have been touched by the research that has considered such festivals as a means for faster social and cultural integration of immigrant groups in these societies (see e.g., [7,8,9,10]). A new research area on cultural festivals is research on those festivals that have a link to UNESCO’s list of protected Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (see e.g., [11,12]); a list with high international recognition. The following festival study has a link to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on one side, and on the other a link to international migration and ethnic issues in Western multicultural societies.
The Persian Fire Festival (Swedish name Eldfesten; Persian name Chaharshanbe Suri) has been celebrated annually since 1980s in Stockholm and several other Swedish cities and towns, by immigrant associations (mainly Iranians) and their members. It has been officially celebrated annually in Sweden since 2010, financed and organized by the Swedish National Touring Theatre (Henceforth Riksteatern) which receives a budget from the Swedish government. Riksteatern belongs to Swedish Civil society sector and its main mission is to facilitate people’s access to performing art on equal terms, regardless of their geographical location, socio-economic or ethnic background. The festival takes place outdoors on a Tuesday in the middle of March, in the city centers of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, between 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. when it is often cold, dark and icy in Sweden. In Stockholm, it was held officially from 2010 until 2018 in The Royal Garden—it has been opened by Swedish ministers including the Prime Minister on several occasions. In 2019, the event was held in the prestigious open-air museum of Skansen, while in 2020 it was canceled due to COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Stockholm event attracts thousands of visitors annually, the predominant majority of whom live in Stockholm area and are of Iranian origin and, to a lesser extent, Afghans, Kurds (from Iraq and Turkey), Azeris, Tajiks and quite a few native Swedes. By visitors here we mean attendees who visit the festival as audiences. The term can include both locals from the same community or surrounding region, but also tourists. Due to the lack of information and due to the short duration of the festival (4–5 h) it is difficult to estimate if it attracts tourists to Stockholm. The number of attendees, however, differs from year to year mostly because of the weather conditions. In 2012 and 2013 the festival had respectively 10,000 and 5000 visitors [13,14]. In 2014, the event had 18,000 visitors, in 2015 there were 20,000, in 2016 27,000, in 2017 and in 2018 22,000 each year, while in 2019 the number of attendees was over 16,000 [15]. The lower figure in 2019 is probably due to the change of venue from the open space of The Royal Garden, to the gated area of the open-air museum of Skansen (more about the venue below). The participating artists are mainly of Iranian, Kurdish, Afghan and Tajik background mostly coming from other Western countries; few ethnic Swedes have participated as artists over the years. The festival has received considerable attention from the Swedish media, Swedish public television broadcaster (SVT), international media outlets (e.g., Voice of America—Persian News Network) as well as media catering to the Iranian diaspora worldwide (e.g., Manoto TV) and social media. Since 2016, it has been also possible to watch the event live through these media channels.
In contrast to van der Horst’s [16] definition of ‘ethnic festivals’ as oriented towards one ethnic group but in similarity with Bramadat’s [17] concept ‘ethnic cultural spectacle’ i.e., a mixture of both features ethnicity and culture, the Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm is an ethnic cultural festival. It is a cultural festival with live multi-ethnic music, show and entertainment, the ceremony of jump over fire, ethnic food outlets, and it is celebrated by several ethnic groups. The festival’s meaning is to say goodbye to the winter and welcome the spring. In its original setting in the Middle East, the Fire Festival is celebrated outdoors in the season of nature’s re-emergence of green life, featuring new grass, flowers and leaves. In Stockholm, however, an evening in the middle of March is not yet tinged by nature’s green growth.
The following research is justified by a research gap. Firstly, there are very few studies on the topic; outside Iran, it has so far been studied in a historical perspective [18] while the studies conducted in Iran focused entirely on the accidents and injuries in the festival celebration (e.g., [19]). Secondly, there is no knowledge on the festival’s stakeholders that according to earlier research [20,21] are involved in the celebration with different benefits and motivations. Stakeholders involved with the Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm have included, amongst others: Visitors; the Swedish government; Riksteatern; the municipality offices and ethnic associations in Greater Stockholm; media outlets; invited artists; vendors; police; festival volunteers; and security companies. One of the most important festival stakeholders to study further here are the visitors of the Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm. It is of importance to discover what motivates them to attend an event where spring weather conditions in a totally different setting are not always conducive to an outdoor festival.
Hence, the aim of this research is to gain insight into the visitors of Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm; a festival that is based on a UNESCO-protected Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as concept. The research question for this study is as follows:
(1) How do the visitors of the Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm reason around their motivations, overall experiences, satisfaction and loyalty?

2. The Research Context

The Persian Fire Festival is the first part of Nowrouz, which is the Persian New Year celebration on 21 March each year. As a result of several thousand years of ancient Persian tradition, people bid farewell to the winter and welcome spring and the new year on the last Tuesday of the solar calendar, before the 21 March. Following the festival ceremonies, small fires are created. When a person jumps over one of these fires, it symbolizes getting rid of all bad luck and disease while gaining prosperity and health from the flames. Nowrouz was registered by UNESCO in 2010 as an Intangible Cultural World Heritage [22,23]. This honor is shared between Iran and several nations in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Asia [22]. Since the Persian Fire Festival is included in Nowrouz as whole, and in consistence with both UNESCO’s definition [22] and Paris convention of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, it can also be classified as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity [24].
Sweden, with more than 10.2 million inhabitants (December 2018), is a multicultural society with over 200 nationalities represented within the country’s population [25]. Between 25% and 30% of all people living in Sweden have immigrant origins (first- and second-generation immigrants). More specifically, 5% of the Swedish population are first- and second-generation immigrants from the six nationalities that most likely celebrate Nowrouz and the Persian Fire Festival: Iranian, Iraqi, Turkish, Afghans, Tajiks and Azeris [26].

3. Literature Review and Conceptual Framework

3.1. Ethnic Cultural Festival as Diasporic Identity

Ethnic cultural festivals could be described as reflections of modern multicultural western societies, with their mosaic of immigrants and ethnic minorities [27]. The celebration of ethnic cultural festivals by these minorities in Western countries can be studied in the context of diaspora; the search by immigrants and refugees for their roots, their cultural or historical identity, and reproduction of it in the new country [28,29,30]. Immigrants build communities and try to get a balance between home and host cultures, in a continuous cultural interaction with the host society [31,32]. Other authors talk about the global diasporic community and the link between a host society and the country of origin [33,34]. Ethnic cultural festivals are suggested as a means of creating mutual integration between host and immigrant cultures and to preserve the national identities of immigrants [35,36,37]; for example, the Chinese New Year Festival in the United Kingdom (Fu, 2012 as cited by [32]). The festivals are a tool to maintain the cultural and ethnic identities of immigrants; that is, a festival can be a way to seek legitimacy and recognition by the host country, while gradually becoming integrated into the new society [28,32,38].

3.2. Visitors’ Motivation

By motivation we mean driving force, needs and wants behind festival visitors’ participation that also has an impact on their perception of experiences and satisfaction [39,40,41]. Motivation can also be created due to a comparison between different festivals and their programs [1]. Most earlier studies have measured motivation quantitatively by using factor- and item analysis (e.g., [31,42,43,44,45,46,47]). Uysal et al., [47] for example used 27 items and five main factors (escape, excitement, togetherness, novelty and socialization). Lee et al., [44], Thompson and Schofield [48], and Egresi and Kara [49], in their extended literature reviews showed that Uysal et al.’s method was elaborated by new authors who included a larger number of items and factors. Savinovic et al. [50] for example included 32 items and eight factors in their study. However, the used factors in these studies included among others: seeking novelty; socialization; togetherness; prestige; rest; educational value; nostalgia; excitement; escape; food; cultural exploration. Other authors (e.g., [51,52]) used factors beyond these factors such as friends; business; to meet stars; it is an annual commitment; good value for money experiences. Ergasi and Kara [49] and Savinovic et al. [50] state that these quantitative studies had mainly focus on push-pull and escape theories linked to tourists and had a lack of focus on local visitors and ethnic issues.
Despite the common motivational factors mentioned above, these factors can vary strongly between different groups of visitors. For example, studies by Yolal et al., [53] and Gunlu and Laleh [54] showed that there are differences in motivation between visitors who participate in different types of festivals. Vinnicombe and Sou [55] and Brown and Knox [56] confirmed that music festival visitors participate mainly for the sake of music and nothing else. Differently from them, Attanasi et al. [4,6] showed in their studies on Greek-language minorities’ music festival in southern Italy that traditional festival visitors participate mainly for the festival’s cultural identity and the local traditions it represents. Other studies by Blesic et al. [57], Duran and Hamarat [58], and Huang and Lee [59] found differences in visitors’ motivations based on gender and ethnicity. Montenegro and Devesa-Fernandez [60] found differences between locals and non-locals while Li and Wood [61] considered different locations of the same festival as difference factor of visitors’ motivation to attend.

4. Visitors’ Satisfaction and Loyalty

Festival visitors’ satisfaction (both tourists and local visitors) has been studied in a wide range of mainly quantitative studies with links to motivation, overall experiences, experience quality, created value, loyalty and intention to revisit the festival. Satisfaction means roughly positive post-visit emotions and reactions to the festival attendance [62] or the sum of the visitors’ positive experiences of the attendance [63]. Emotions and feelings as synonyms means all positive feelings, moods, emotional experiences and positive psychosocial effects of an event i.e., all affective aspects of events and their impacts on the attendees and visitors well-being (see e.g., [64,65]). Authors (e.g., [66,67,68]) emphasize that there is a link between positive feelings and emotions created at an event and satisfaction with the event in issue. Some authors (e.g., [50]) believe that there might be a direct relationship between visitors’ motivation and their satisfaction, while other authors (e.g., [69]) exclude this relationship. Other studies (e.g., [60,70]) suggest that there is a link between motivation, perceived festival experiences, quality, added value on one hand and satisfaction and loyalty on the other hand. Loyalty means positive behavioral intention after a festival visit i.e., intention to revisit the festival next time it is held, and positive word of mouth for the festival [71,72,73,74]. Getz [75], emphasizes that festival experiences can impact upon such behavior.
There is a relationship between visitors’ satisfaction and the festival’s success [44] especially in term of loyalty [51,76,77,78,79] i.e., that satisfied visitors both revisit the festival and recommend it to other people. There can also be a relationship between a good quality of the festival (quality of activities, experiences, products and services), created value for the visitors and satisfaction and loyalty [51,76,80,81,82,83,84]. Relatively odd factors such as government policy, environmental quality, spatial crowding and their positive impact on visitors’ satisfaction and loyalty were also touched by authors [62,85].

Conceptual Framework

The literature review above on motivations, satisfaction and loyalty can be summarized by Getz [86] who models the perception of a festival by a visitor as: ‘before’; ‘during’; and ‘after’. People with different backgrounds (e.g., age, gender, educational level, family situation, previous experiences) and motivations decide to visit a festival with some expectations that they feel must be fulfilled. During their attendance they might experience a series of both positive and negative experiences which could influence their overall satisfaction of the festival itself. After the visitors return home, they evaluate their attendance; this evaluation decides the level of their satisfaction and loyalty with the festival and i.e., if they return to the event at the next opportunity. This modified framework, is a tool by which the authors of this paper aim to analyze visitors’ participation at the Persian Fire Festival and subsequently answer the research question.

5. Methodology

5.1. Data Collection and Sample

The following research was exploratory, and the overall methodology approach was mixed methods consisting of participant observation and online survey with both close-ended and open-ended questions. The reason behind this choice was to get benefits of both qualitative and quantitative methods i.e., achieving both deeper knowledge and insights on the visitors, exploring more detailed information and more representativeness when the topic is complex [87,88,89]. As the festival is a part of an intangible cultural world heritage but celebrated in Stockholm by several ethnic groups from Middle East and Asia, it felt necessary to use this method.
Participant observation was carried out at Skansen park between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on the 19 March 2019. This involved distributing more than 200 flyers among the visitors with information on the current research project, talking to many of them and briefly presenting the aim of the research project. The distribution of the flyers and conversation with the visitors was made between 3–5 p.m., outside the Entrance and before the visitors were permitted to enter after 5:00 p.m. After this time both authors entered to the arena and observed the festival like all other visitors. The live festival itself was then finally observed at the event.
The authors also used the online survey tool Sunet Survey that was hosted and administrated by one of the authors’ university. On the 30 March 2019, the survey was placed on two addresses: the Persian Fire Festival’s own Facebook page (; and, on a Stockholm-based website in Farsi, that is frequently visited by people of Iranian, Kurdish and Afghan background ( The questionnaire (in Swedish) contained 11 close-ended questions (several requiring explanations and justifications); six open-ended qualitative questions (also requiring explanations) and an additional final question. The close-ended questions concerned important background information about the visitors (see Table 1). The open-ended questions concerned motivations behind celebration, feelings created due to the celebration, what means the place for the experience, what do they think about the celebration at Skansen, should the Fire Festival be celebrated officially every year, improvement suggestions, other comments. The additional question was about whether they were willing to participate in an interview investigation later.
The survey collection was finished at the end of April 2019 and resulted in 280 completed questionnaires. The authors received a complete survey report in PDF by Sunet Survey consisting of all answers completed with diagrams and figures followed by all required explanations and justifications.

5.2. Data Analysis Method

Due to the exploratory nature of the research, a grounded theory analysis approach was chosen to fit the aim and research questions [91]. In Grounded theory analysis, all data collected by the researcher constitute a new theory or contribution to a new theory building [92], and the theory is generated through the collected data in terms of concepts, categories and themes [91]. Glaser defines it as follows:
“Grounded Theory is an inductive methodology. Although many call Grounded Theory a qualitative method, it is not. It is a general method. It is the systematic generation of theory from systematic research. It is a set of rigorous research procedures leading to the emergence of conceptual categories. …Grounded Theory can be used with either qualitative or quantitative data.”
(Glaser, cited by [93])
The analysis and interpretation of qualitative data material (answers to the open-ended questions, and all explanations and justifications) has been made in qualitative manner since the authors have been more interested in words and expressions rather than in numbers, figures and percentages. The digital and out-printed versions of the completed survey were thoroughly reviewed to capture codes/coded unites, core concepts, categories and patterns, in accordance with the grounded theory approach. The analysis here has been inductive i.e., conceptualization was made firstly based on the empirical data, while the relevant theoretical/conceptual framework was shaped afterwards [92]. Since the completed survey was digitally saved with detailed descriptive and explanative data, there was no need to move information to SPSS and the analysis was simply made semi-manually and semi-digitally. The validity of this research is relatively high since all data and analysis of it address to the aim and research question [92]. Further, the authors did run a test of representativeness of their sample of interviewees based on Marbach [94] formula that later was used by Attanasi et al., [4,6] (see the Table 1, above). The formula is based on the sample size in 2019 (n = 280 completed questionnaires) and the population of festival attendees in 2019 (n = 16,000). The test showed a margin of error equal to 0.059 which is very close to Marbach’s tolerance limit of 0.05. It shows that the sample of 280 online questionnaires proves to be representative for the target population.

6. Findings and Analysis

6.1. Motivations

In a qualitative (open-ended) question: “Why do you celebrate the Fire Festival?” the respondents were asked to explain their motives behind the celebration. The most frequent motivators to attend the Persian Fire Festival, reported by the respondents, were tradition and culture. Since tradition is an aspect included in culture (see [95,96]), the word culture can be used here for both culture and tradition. Interpreting questionnaire responses, participation in the festival was for the following reasons: to keep the ancient Iranian tradition and culture alive; to maintain their ancestors’ legacy; and to transfer it to the next generation living in the host society. It was also an attempt, while living abroad, to keep their ancestors’ culture alive when the Islamic regime in Tehran was systematically against it and wanted to establish Islamic culture and traditions instead. Some quotes are included below, to illustrate these sentiments:
“A tradition that I grew up with, and to defy the Islamic regime in Iran who ignores our traditions.”
“A great part of my culture that I want to preserve.”
“It is a popular non-religious celebration that is celebrated outdoors before spring. I am happy that Sweden appreciates the message the Fire Festival gives to Swedes. This makes the integration easier.”
These results, in difference with many earlier studies on festival visitors, are more consistent with diaspora studies (e.g., [4,6,30,32,35,36]) that claim that immigrants and ethnic minorities have a strong need to keep their traditions and own cultural identity through celebration of ethnic cultural festivals and for it to be recognized by the host society.
Other important, but less frequent, motivators were “to gather family members” “to gather friends and relatives”, “to have joy and happiness” and in a few cases, even “to welcome the spring” or “to taste food and drink”. Some further examples that were given include:
“An important feast that brings the family together.”
“I celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri and not Eldfesten … to meet with friends and share my happiness with many while waiting for the spring and the new year.”
Further, these results are partly in line with many earlier studies that counted socialization, togetherness, kinship, to be with family and friends, food, as motivators (e.g., [44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51]).

6.2. Satisfaction

To measure the satisfaction level quantitatively, the respondents were asked to answer a close-set question: “Are your expectations for the Fire Festival met?” A predominant majority (80%) believed that the event had fully or partly fulfilled their expectations (Figure 1).
A part of them chose to comment their answers. Those who were positive mentioned factors linked to among other things good organization, good security, safety and control, and the large space in the arena [venue], while those who were critical complained mostly on the food, its quality and price, selection of artists and lack of artists from other ethnic backgrounds, and lack of authenticity in the program.
“Beyond expectation fine show, and very orderly. No alcohol which was really nice.”
“Well organised and more organised.”
“The food was expensive and little.”
These results are in line with earlier research (e.g., [52,75,80,81,82,83]) that confirmed that a good quality of a festival creates satisfaction and loyalty with the visitors.
To measure the satisfaction qualitatively, they were also asked to answer the open-ended question: “What emotions does it evoke to celebrate the Fire Festival with you?” to catch what feelings and emotions had been created through the participation. The predominant majority mentioned positive emotions and the most frequent answers by the visitors were defined in terms of “happy/happiness” followed by other positive expressions such as hope, peace, love, warmth. Other important but less frequent answers were defined in terms of “a sense that spring is coming”, “pride/proud”, “childhood/nostalgia”, “community and belonging”.
“Pride, joy, happiness, community, hope.”
“A certain sense of togetherness, joy to come together and celebrate together and that the tradition is recognised and come back every year.”
This result is in line with earlier research (e.g., [62,65,66,67]) that found a relationship between positive post-visit emotions and feelings and satisfaction with the festival attendance.
Another question to measure satisfaction qualitatively with was “What does the place mean for how you experience the Fire Festival?”. The most frequent answers were about the Skansen and its attributes as venue and place. They got the chance to compare between various places (Iran, elsewhere in the World, District Hallonbergen, a suburb of Stockholm, where celebrations were held during 1980s and 1990s, The Royal Garden, Skansen). However, for a minority of the respondents the place did not matter but the tradition, content and ambience. Nevertheless, a predominant majority of the respondents appreciated the choice of Skansen and its physical environment with positive expressions such as excellent. Here, a quotation that is representative.
“The most important thing is to celebrate it, but Skansen was the best.”
The satisfaction included also the high-status of Skansen and once again its other attributes such as safety and security control, and the size of the venue when the respondents finally answered to the question “What do you think about the Fire Festival being celebrated at Skansen?”. A considerable part of the satisfied respondents appreciated the choice of Skansen as a venue with its prestige. The fact that Skansen is a cultural historical heritage of national symbolic value for Swedes is surely known for the majority of the respondents (73%) who had visited Skansen prior to the festival (Figure 2). Here, the venue is an extra advantage, even though many of the respondents also liked The Royal Garden venue. Their positive comments on Skansen showed a sense of pride and an appreciation of the venue, such as demonstrated in the following quotes:
“Fantastic. Quite right. It is a folk festival and Skansen belongs to the folk.”
“All places work well but just in Skansen the Swedish cultural heritage is linked to the Iranian which for me added something extra.”
These results are partly in line with many previous studies that included mutually interlinked issues which are applicable to different types of events, such as: positive feelings and experiences; satisfaction; loyalty; and intention to revisit the festival [51,61,62,72,74,85].
On the other hand, a minority showed a direct or indirect dissatisfaction with the festival through answers to questions mentioned upon plus to the question on: “Do you have any concrete improvement suggestions so that next year’s event can be made even better?”. The most frequent criticisms were the lack of accessibility or satisfactory modes of transport. Other important criticisms were the lack of authenticity and originality in the festival, that the festival had been changed to a show and entertainment, and factors linked to the artists. Further, less common dissatisfaction factors were food-related, such as: “bad and expensive food”, “long queues”, “few food trucks” as well as “deficient security and safety”, followed by “darkness”, “the path to the arena” and “the benches which were not suitable for older and disabled people”, “lack of parking”. Further quotes collected from respondents included:
“Very nice place, but with long distance to where we live.”
“It smelled more Swedish fashion than Persian celebration.”
“… a lot of Kurds were there, but most of them didn’t want to be there anymore if you can’t invite Kurdish artists to the Fire Festival.”
This dissatisfied minority seems to have assessed the quality of the festival [52,75,80,81,82,83] totally differently, and are especially critical to the lack of accessibility of the arena.

6.3. Loyalty

The authors did not ask the respondents how loyal they are to the festival i.e., if they intend to revisit the festival next time it is held, and if they would recommend the festival to other people [70,71,72,73]. They tried to find it out through the respondents’ answers to the quantitative question: “Have you participated in the Fire Festival in Stockholm in previous years?”, and to the qualitative question: “Do you think that the Fire Festival (which is arranged by Riksteatern) is important to celebrate in Sweden every year?”. Nevertheless, answers to both questions indicated relatively high loyalty to the Fire Festival, with a majority of loyal and repeated visitors. In total, 18% of respondents answered that they attended the festival for the second time, while 62% attended for a third time or more (Figure 3).
A predominant majority answered “Yes” to the qualitative question above and believed that the Fire Festival organized by Riksteatern should be celebrated every year. The most important reasons, by those who chose to comment their answers have been defined in terms of: For increased multiculturalism in Sweden; for the integration and community; and for happiness. Here, some answers to the qualitative question that are representative.
“Yes. To show that Sweden knows about other ethnic groups’ traditions and appreciate them.”
“Absolutely! For increased integration, community, hope for the future of a multicultural nation like Sweden.”
Still, a small minority, as it is clear by the earlier section, show indicators of dissatisfaction with the festival. This might indicate that the likelihood that this minority returns to the festival next time or they would recommend it to other people is small.

7. Discussion and Conclusions

As a reflection to the conceptual framework in this paper [86], the visitors to the Persian Fire Festival in Stockholm, who belong to diaspora communities in the city, came to celebrate the festival outdoors on a cold, dark, icy Tuesday evening in March 2019 with the main motives to preserve their ancient culture and tradition, and to receive cultural identity recognition by the host society. This is quite understandable; these people celebrate the festival mostly because the Islamic regime in Tehran since 1979 has been systematically against all ancient Persian traditions and wants people to just celebrate Islamic traditions. The fact that the celebration is based on a UNESCO-protected Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and supported by the Swedish Riksteatern gives the celebration stronger identity. The first conclusion here is that these motivators are totally different than those mentioned by earlier research (e.g., escape, socialization, novelty, rest, prestige, excitement) (e.g., [7,45,49,50]). Our result distinguishes itself from mainstream research in the sense that our respondents had the primary motivation to keep their ancestors’ legacy alive and to receive recognition for their cultural identity rather than looking for escape or excitement first hand. In this respect, our result is more in line with the earlier diasporic studies that emphasize that immigrant and refugee groups in Western societies search for their roots and cultural and historical identities and recognition of them by the host societies [28,29,30,38] and for a balance between home and host culture in their continuous integration process [32,35,36,37]. Another result that distinguishes our study from many earlier studies is the issue of loyalty. While many earlier studies (e.g., [59,61,62,69,70,71,72,73]) emphasized that well-arranged events create positive emotions, which results in satisfaction and loyalty among the visitors and creates success for the festivals, here the visitors of Persian Fire festival also add the importance of multiculturalism and integration as reasons to keep this festival alive. Nevertheless, this conclusion should be drawn with some cautiousness since a predominant majority of the respondents were well-educated and well-integrated in the Swedish society which does not correspond to all targeted ethnic groups in this study. Most of the responders had an overall positive experience and satisfaction with the festival that gave them meaning and the sense of added value, factors which could create loyalty and an intention to revisit the festival. A minority showed partly or fully dissatisfaction; they did not perceive the same positive experience, meaning or sense of added value. The main reasons provided were lack of geographic proximity and accessibility by public transport, which are factors that may result in their future disloyalty and non-attendance. One more conclusion here would therefore be that even though the desire to preserve the ancient culture and tradition is very strong, a lack of accessibility and proximity to the venue would constitute disloyalty and a barrier to attend in such a festival.

8. Managerial Implications

This research has implications for the Swedish state and Riksteatern, for Swedish tourism industry and for festival research. As has been described, this festival shows a series of positive impacts upon the society, for the Stockholm municipality and for the targeted ethnic groups in this research. Such festivals can strengthen the harmonic co-existence between all citizens in the city regardless of their ethnic origin and thereby create a stronger platform for more cultural encounters between them. This in turn increases the opportunities for better mutual integration in the society that has been anticipated by many respondents. Both Riksteatern and the Swedish state might gain more advantages to arrange more such festivals in more Swedish cities. So far, the festival has not had a direct positive economic impact upon the local or national tourism industry; the festival is local, and the visitors are almost entirely from greater Stockholm and not tourists. This research gives insight to the tourism and hospitality industry in Stockholm and might inspire them to collaborate with Riksteatern and Swedish festival researchers in this regard. This collaboration can take place around new research projects, especially research projects that seek ways to marketing Stockholm and Sweden for domestic and international tourists with the concept of Fire Festival.

9. Limitations and Further Research

Our methodological approach warrants critical self-reflection, as it may have resulted in some bias. A majority of those we met at the venue as well as those who answered our questionnaires were middle aged. Secondly, most of the respondents were well-educated and reported high levels of employment. These characteristics are not reflected in the ethnic groups who are known to attend the Fire Festival, although Iranian-born immigrants living in Sweden have been shown to generally be well-educated however they demonstrate relatively more unemployment than immigrants originating from Europe. It means that the validity of the study is not very high for the whole population of the Iranian groups and for the other targeted ethnic minorities. Therefore, the study results might be only applicable for this highly educated and well-integrated group. In other words, any far-reaching conclusions based on this study would not be possible to draw. Thirdly, the predominant share of the respondents were Swedish–Iranians who might not be fully representative for the various ethnic groups of the Fire Festival’s visitors. Fourthly, about 300 questionnaires were not fully completed, and due to technical limitations of the survey system, it was not possible to access any uncompleted questionnaires. A suggested reason for non-completion of questionnaires could be that they contained many qualitative open-ended and follow-up questions that required explanation and clarification. This structure needs to be considered and may need to be revised in future studies. Finally, the fact that we run the survey 11 days after the Fire Festival and continued in 1 month ahead might have resulted in that the respondents perhaps forgot to share all their motivations, feelings, experiences in their questionnaires.
The fact that despite strong willingness to preserve the ancient culture and traditions, a part of the potential festival visitors can be prevented to participate next time due to lack of proximity to the venue is worth to study further in a future research, especially in a diaspora context. Consequently, it would also be scientifically worthwhile to study the significance of the place for participation in such ethnic-cultural festivals when even the high status of the place does not make sense for some potential visitors. Hosting the Persian Fire Festival has certainly created a globally positive image for Sweden and Stockholm. A further suggestion for future research is to collate data on the Fire Festival’s ability to create an intention among potentially domestic and international visitors and tourists to visit the venue, city and country. The very low numbers of native Swedes among the visitors over the years (see, e.g., distribution of ethnicity in Table 1) may indicate a lack of integration, acceptance, knowledge or cultural recognition from the host country population that the organizer and the state should take in to consideration. This low turnout is likely caused by the timing of the event but a closer analysis of attendance by the Swedish population should be carried out in the future.

Author Contributions

Data curation, S.A. and A.L.; Formal analysis, S.A. and A.L.; Investigation, A.L.; Methodology, S.A. and A.L.; Project administration, S.A.; Validation, S.A.; Writing—original draft, S.A.; Writing—review & editing, S.A. and A.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


The APC was funded by Södertörn University.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest


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Figure 1. Are your expectations for the Fire Festival met? Please comment on your answer.
Figure 1. Are your expectations for the Fire Festival met? Please comment on your answer.
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Figure 2. Have you been to Skansen before?
Figure 2. Have you been to Skansen before?
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Figure 3. Have you participated in the Fire Festival in Stockholm in previous years?
Figure 3. Have you participated in the Fire Festival in Stockholm in previous years?
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Table 1. Respondents’ answers to the quantitative close-ended questions in summary.
Table 1. Respondents’ answers to the quantitative close-ended questions in summary.
Gender36% Women, 64% Men
Age66% were aged more than 40 years old
Years in SwedenAbout half had lived in Sweden for less than 21 years, 4% were born and raised there, and the rest had lived here for more than 21 years.
Nationality/ethnicitySwedish-Iranian (83%), Swedish Afghan (6%), Swedish Iraqi (1%), Swedish (4%) and other (6%).
Educational level82% had an academic education, of which 8% had PhD. The rest had elementary school and high school education.
Profession72% of the respondents were employed, 13% were students, and 15% were unemployed or retired.
Residential areaMore than 81% of them came from Greater Stockholm. The remainder came from counties in immediate proximity.
Lone participant or in company?17% came alone while 83% came with friends, relatives and family members.
Participation in the Fire Festival in Stockholm in previous years62% had been participating for 3 years or more, 18% participated for second time and the rest participated for first time.
Previous visits of SkansenMore than 73% had visited Skansen prior to the festival
Are your expectations fulfilled?54% believed that the festival had fully fulfilled their expectations, 25% believed that their expectations were partly fulfilled, 21% believed that their expectations were not fulfilled.
Margin of error N N 1 n   1 N 1 = 0.059238
Although persons born in Iran are well-educated, i.e., 53% have academic education (44% for Swedish average) [90] this figure is too high and not representative. On the other hand, highly educated Swedish Iranians seem have felt more comfortable to answer our questions.
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Abbasian, S.; Lundberg, A. Between Fire and Ice: Experiences of the Persian Fire Festival in a Nordic Setting. Sustainability 2020, 12, 10374.

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Abbasian S, Lundberg A. Between Fire and Ice: Experiences of the Persian Fire Festival in a Nordic Setting. Sustainability. 2020; 12(24):10374.

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Abbasian, Saeid, and Anna Lundberg. 2020. "Between Fire and Ice: Experiences of the Persian Fire Festival in a Nordic Setting" Sustainability 12, no. 24: 10374.

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