April 10, 2007

University Celebrates The Persian New Year

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Norouz, the Persian New Year, was celebrated by students and staff last Sunday with traditional music, dancing and desserts. Coinciding with the spring equinox, Norouz symbolizes not only the new year but also rebirth and new beginnings. It is celebrated by people throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, including those in Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The Iranian Students Association organized the celebration in order to bring together the Persian community at Cornell and also to spread awareness of Iranian culture. Cina Sasannejad ’09, vice president of the organization, said, “While the first goal is to celebrate with other Iranians, it is also to share our culture, especially because it’s so depressing to look at politics today, and we wanted to celebrate our rich and long culture independently of [politics].”
The celebration included traditional sweets, such as fried dough dipped in honey and rosewater and an appearance by the belly-dancing group Teszia. The Persian music ensemble also performed, playing the tar and the domback, two traditional instruments.
Although the cold weather made a picnic impossible, students sat on the ground to represent the traditional picnic that occurs on the 13th day. As they munched on the desserts and engaged in conversation, it became clear that for many, this celebration represented an attempt to return to their cultural roots.
Zhaleh Amini ’09, expressed her desire to engage with the Iranian community at Cornell.
“I want to experience Persian culture, and since I don’t really know many other Persian people, I want to meet more who share my culture,” she said.
A member of the ISA, Sheema Shayesteh ’09, agreed.
“I don’t know many Persians, and it’s nice to connect with the greater community,” she added.
The history of Norouz extends back 15,000 years and is a celebration independent of Islamic culture. The celebration was first instituted by the prophet Zoroaster, who created many such ceremonies to honor the seven creations. There are several traditional aspects of this celebration, many of which were recreated for this event.
One such custom is the Haft Sin. The Haft Sin is prepared by each family and consists of seven or more symbolic pieces arranged on a table to represent the seven creations and those protecting them. In Farsi, the names of each of the objects start with the letter “S,” and typical pieces include garlic, wheat and dried fruit, though the actual objects may vary depending on the family. For example, Sasannejad himself was placed on the table when he was first born because his name also started with the letter “S.”
Another tradition that was honored was the building of a bonfire. Usually, individuals jump over the fire, a symbolic act during which each asks to exchange “my paleness and sickness for [the fire’s] strength and light.” This tradition ties in to the overall theme of the holiday of rebirth and hope for a better new year. Those in attendance did not jump over the fire due to safety concerns.
The role of the Haji Firouz was also discussed in great detail. The Haji Firouz sing and dance to celebrate the arrival of spring and are also central to festivities. Typically, men dress up in red as Haji Firouz and run through the streets to spread joy and hope for the New Year.