By Conner Bryan
Spring has sprung in Georgia, and UGA’s student body is experiencing the renewing benefits of warm weather and sunshine. For Persians, however, the year is literally new.
The vernal equinox – an occasion more commonly known as the first day of spring – signals not only the beginning of blooming flowers but also the beginning of Nowruz, a 13 day celebration of the Iranian New Year.
Nowruz, which literally means “new day” in Farsi, is one of the most important holidays for Persians.
Ava Motakef, a third year Exercise and Sports Science major from John’s Creek and the president of Persian Student Union said, “It’s kind of like the Persian version of Christmas. But instead of celebrating in December when it’s cold outside, we celebrate it in spring when the weather’s great outside. It’s very symbolic of new beginnings.”
The great weather was certainly here when the PSU hosted a celebration of Nowruz on March 24. The event took place in Tate Reception Hall. Large, round tables polka-dotted the entire space, pressed as far to the walls as comfortably possible. The most important table sat humble and square at the entrance to the hall.
The Sofreh eh Haft-seen (Farsi for “the table of seven s’s”), a staple at proper Nowruz celebrations, greeted visitors at the entrance of the hall. On the table were the seven s’s implied by its name: an assemblage of items that act as tokens of favorable qualities for the coming year and that all begin with the letter S in Farsi. For example, apples are for beauty and garlic is for good health.
Perhaps the next most important table at the event was the one where food was collected. Heaped with piles of delicious meats, salmon, rice, dips and desserts, the table was a hub of activity right until all of the food disappeared.
Students hardly could have prepared all of this food on their own. Instead, Persian family members from across the state came for the celebration, bringing food and good cheer.
Family, too, is central to Nowruz. Motakef said, “It’s the one time a year where everyone gets together. It makes families come together. Everyone’s just happy.”
Other tables hosted a collection of traditional Persian clothes, supplies for completing calligraphy and a kit for painting eggs, a custom that recalls the Easter tradition of dying eggs. Around all of these tables, families collected for delicious food and quality time.
After the food had mostly disappeared, attention turned to the performers: two men, one playing guitar and the other singing. The hall was silent as Farsi songs trembled out of the front of the room. Soon, everyone who knew the songs joined and filled the room with singing.
The performance seemed for a moment like the end of UGA’s Nowruz, but no Persian party would be complete without dancing. Iranian pop music broadcast over the speakers and everyone – mothers and grandmothers included – got out of their seat for a twirl and a turn on the dance floor. In one small circle on the periphery, a father, mother and their son danced all on their own smiling the entire time.
With the dancing done and the food platters cleared away, families filtered out of the hall saying their goodbyes and giving out hugs freely. In some cases, multiple generations exchanged goodbyes.
Ahzin Bahraini, a third year Psychology major from John’s Creek, GA, had both her mother and grandmother visit her. She was happy to have her family and their food there to celebrate with her.
So PSU’s celebration of Nowruz ended with a display of the commitment that families share with each other. Bahraini said, “Just when you think you’re really independent, your family comes around. When you think you can do it all on your own they remind you that you don’t have to, because they have your back.”