Have you ever been around campus on a Sunday in late March? Ever noticed the masses of dark-haired men, women and children trekking to University Drive’s Mason Park from all directions, dragging ice chests, boomboxes and large rolled-up rugs?
If you’ve always wondered what that was all about, what you saw was the closing celebration for the Iranian New Year, an annual cultural event that begins with the start of spring and continues with almost two weeks of parties and festivals.
Also called Nowruz, which translates into ‘new day,’ the first day on the Iranian solar calendar coincides with the first day of spring. It is a cultural celebration that doesn’t focus on any one religion, but rather embraces the different ethnicities located near and around the Iranian region.
According to Farsinet.com, two events mark the initial preparations for the pending Nowruz. First, a family will grow ‘sabzeh,’ which can be the sprouts of most small seeds. This represents the changing of the seasons. Another important ritual involves a complete cleaning of the house and repairing anything that may be broken. The cleaning is vital because it represents the creation of a welcome place for ancestors to protect.
At this time, families also shop for new clothing for each member of the household. In addition, they buy different representative items to display on a cloth (or ‘sofreh’), and get new five and 10 dollar bills from the bank to give to children of families who make customary visits to each other’s homes.
There are two other fascinating aspects of the tradition that are worth mentioning. ‘Chahar Shanbeh Suri,’ a festival held in different public places on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year, includes the lighting of bonfires in hopes of banishing unlucky events and bringing joy to the new year. ‘Haji Firouz’ is a character dressed in red who has come to serve as a mascot for Nowruz celebrations, because it is he who symbolically notifies people of the changing seasons.
After covering the most important aspects of Nowruz tradition, one must try and understand how it is celebrated in America.
Many families have retained almost all of the tradition, going out of their way to make sure all of the details are right. Some families have reduced the activities to better fit their busy schedules, which don’t allow time for a holiday for this occasion. And sadly, some families have forgone the celebrations altogether.
‘I don’t celebrate it. I don’t have a sofreh in my house. Every March, I realize that Persian New Year is coming, and to that extent I realize that it’s spring, and that’s it,’ said third-year international studies major Joseph Hekmat.
Some students who do still celebrate the holiday are unhappy about the way it has been altered by societal expectations.
‘In my home, we do celebrate Persian New Year,’ said fourth-year political science major Ronen Zargarof. ‘I think that behind the doors of the home, I think that type of Persian New Year is the most authentic you’ll see. It’s based on the family and culture, and it is dated way back. However, when you go into things like the park event, or when you go to a festival, it becomes watered down like everything else in mainstream society. It becomes more Americanized than anything that’s Persian.’
The park event that Zargarof refers to happened this year on March 28, in one of the most popular locations for Iranians to gather, Irvine’s Mason Park.
Every year, over 10,000 individuals attend the celebration in Irvine to eat, see old friends and sadly for some, to show off, which is why some families do not like attending.
Nevertheless, it is an event that many look forward to all year, and some families have traditions that make it special, such as bringing enough soup to feed strangers.
‘Every year, my father and uncle go early in the morning to get our usual spot, so family friends always know where to find us in the park,’ said third-year arts and humantities major Katy Kargar. ‘It’s just a whole day of being together with your family. I mean, we usually spend a lot of time together, but this is more relaxing than a regular day. We can sit around and chat, eat and play volleyball and soccer.’
Iranian New Year is one of those valuable things that when truly understood, can make a person very proud of their cultural identity. If Iranians can continue to preserve the core of this tradition, future generations can retain some of the magic experienced by their predecessors.
To learn more, visit www.farsinet.com.