March 20th, 2007 12:54 EST
Traditional Nowrouz celebrations flourish from New York to California
Iranian Americans Welcome Persian New Year March 20
Washington -- Every culture celebrates the change in seasons in some fashion, but few are as ancient, colorful and full of symbolism as the traditional ceremonies for the beginning of the Persian New Year, or Nowrouz, marking the first day of spring.
For writer Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, "Nowrouz is all about hope. With the first day of spring, the New Year celebration represents rebirth and hope -- and we all cling to hope, now more than ever."
For cardiologist Rudy Rezzadeh, founder of the annual Persian Parade in New York City, "Nowrouz is a way for our children to celebrate and learn about their cultural background, just like so many other people in America have done."
The range and variety of Nowrouz celebrations reflect the richness and diversity of Persian culture in the United States, which includes the people of many nations and ethnic backgrounds that were once part of the greater Persian Empire. These Persian traditions and history encompass those who live in present-day Iran, of course, but also people from countries stretching from Albania through a great swath of Central Asia to India and Pakistan.
Many of the traditions associated with Nowrouz reflect its ancient origins in the Zoroastrian faith as far back as 5,000 years. But, as with other cultural traditions in the United States, Nowrouz has evolved to attract new generations to the rich heritage it represents. (See related article.)
Shaida Johnston, a NASA scientist in Washington, fondly recalls the excitement of Nowrouz celebrations in Iran as a teenager, from the preparation of traditional foods and the wearing of brand-new clothes to visiting relatives who gave the children sweets and gold coins.
"It is one of my happiest memories," she said. Although Johnston no longer leaps bonfires -- another Nowrouz tradition -- she will prepare an elaborate Persian meal that her friends, most of whom are not Iranian, look forward to enjoying with her every year.
Food, as with many popular holidays, is central to Nowrouz celebrations throughout the country. The Iranian Association of Boston, Persia House of Portland State University in Oregon, the Iranian Cultural Center of New Mexico and the Iranian Cultural Center of Orange County in California all will be marking Nowrouz with banquets featuring traditional dishes, music and dancing. In the United States, the Nowrouz celebration begins the evening of March 20.
An essential element of Nowrouz celebrations -- whether at home or at a banquet -- is the traditional Haft Seen, an elegant centerpiece or table setting of at least seven items beginning with the letter "S" in the Persian alphabet, representing creations and immortals of the ancient Persian tradition.
The items are Sabzeh (wheat, barley or lentil sprouts, symbolizing rebirth), Samanu (sweet pudding or custard -- affluence), Senjed (fruit of the oleaster or lotus tree -- love), Seer (garlic -- health and medicine), Seeb (apples -- beauty and health), Somaq (sumac berries -- sunrise), Serkeh (vinegar -- age and patience), Sonbol (hyacinth -- spring) and Sekkeh (coins -- prosperity and wealth).
Many groups will be offering menus of cultural events to accompany the food. The Persian Center, based in Berkeley, California, for example, plans a bonfire-jumping event on a downtown street, a presentation by the Society of Iranian Professionals, film and art shows and talks on Iranian women in science and the latest archeological research under way in Iran. (See related article.)
One popular feature for children this year is a new animated cartoon called Babak & Friends -- A First Norooz. Babak tells the story of a young Iranian boy who, as he adjusts to life in America, learns the rich history and culture of his background and how it contributes to the tapestry of American life.
A highlight of Nowrouz celebrations in the United States will be the fourth annual Persian Parade, scheduled for March 25 in downtown New York. Founder Rudy Rezzadeh hopes to attract more than the 10,000 people who attended the celebrations in 2006. Iranian student groups from all along the East Coast will be marching next to floats celebrating cities such as Shiraz and Isfahan. As with most Nowrouz celebrations, there also will be plenty of dancers representing many different styles and traditions.
One parade highlight will be a commemoration of the 800th birthday of the celebrated Persian poet and mystic Rumi, with floats and banners highlighting some of his most famous lines and verses.
For more information on celebrations in the United States, see Holidays.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)