Local Iranian-Americans celebrate the Persian New Year at Big Corona beach Tuesday. (Courtesy Amy Senk / March 16, 2011)

CORONA DEL MAR — About 5,000 people filled Big Corona Beach on Tuesday evening to celebrate Persian New Year, filling the 27 beach fire rings with bonfires as part of an ancient tradition.

"It reminds me of my childhood in Iran," said Susan Mirzaei, of Newport Coast, who moved here in 1996.

Back then, families would have fires in their yards or streets. But because bonfires are illegal outside of beach fire rings, Corona del Mar has become a destination each year for Persian families throughout Orange County.

Mirsoltani Nematollah, of Laguna Hills, set up a table near the sand and filled it with traditional items: flowers, a goldfish bowl, coins, colorful eggs, grass, apples and a calendar noting the year 2570.

"It's a symbol of New Year," he said. "In Iran, all homes have this. I bring it every year."

Danube Marandi, of Big Canyon, said she has been spending Persian New Year at Big Corona for years, even before she moved to Newport Beach.

"It's a party," she said. "We all jump over the fire."

When you jump over the fire, she said, you are supposed to speak words that give any sickness to the flames.

"'My yellowness is yours, your redness is mine,'" she said as she skipped around the flames.

"I'm scared to do it," she said.

Her father, Ahmad Sarrafi, 85, said the fire cleanses everyone. He said the tradition honored an old Persian king who saw a snake and threw a stone at it.

"It sparked," he said. "It's the birthday of fire. It's holy."

At home, they said, children would go door to door, bang spoons on pots and ask for sweets — similar to Halloween.

At Big Corona, families flew Iranian flags and played music. Some set up elaborate Persian feasts while others had picnic sandwiches and snacks.

Newport Beach added 15 extra patrol officers as well as park police to monitor the crowds, but they said other than some first aid calls and crowd control at the end of the night, the celebrations were usually calm and without incident.