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Celebrating Nowruz, an Iranian holiday, in Maine

In many cultures, the Spring Equinox, the moment when the sun appears directly overhead at the Earth’s equator, marks a time of transition and new beginnings. Nowruz, translated as New Day in Persian, is the name of the Iranian New Year, which falls on the day of the Spring Equinox.

Nowruz is an international holiday. People from China, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia and many others celebrate this holiday, while in Iran, it is the most important holiday of the year.

Last Friday, March 25, the Iranian group at the University of Maine hosted the International Student Association’s Coffee Hour, sharing their culture with the UMaine community. Homemade Iranian dishes attracted more than 100 people, the biggest attendance Coffee Hour had so far this year.

Haft Seen, a traditional table arrangement of seven symbolic items of Persian New Year was displayed at the coffee hour featuring wheat, symbolizing rebirth; sweet pudding, representing affluence; dried oleaster, a wide olive fruit symbolizing love; garlic, representing health; apple, representing beauty; sumac fruit, symbolizing sunrise and vinegar, representing old age and patience. A mirror, painted eggs, grass and candles were also displayed at the Haft Seen table as ornaments.

“We believe that celebrating Nowruz, and especially putting the table, gives us good life for our new year,” Somayeh Khosroazad, visiting scholar from Iran, shared.

Khosroazad shared that celebrating Nowruz away from her family is different, but the distance does not discourage her.

“If we do not celebrate it, we think we will miss out on something in the year,” Khosroazad added.

In Iran, families gather around a Haft Seen before the moment of Spring Equinox, after which they kiss and hug each other and exchange gifts. Then during the day, Iranians visit their entire families, starting from the eldest, the great-grandparents and grandparents, and making their way to the youngest families.

“It is perfect in Iran, all family members go to each other, and it is necessary, because at least once a year we should meet our family in order not to forget about them,” Khosroazad said.

On the 13th day of celebrations, the entire family, both extended and immediate prepare food and go to a countryside to enjoy the nature. Some people throw to the river the grass that was displayed at the Haft Seen table.

“When we throw the grass, we wish that all of our dreams come true, because the river can bring the grass to the ocean. We hope that with this manner our dreams happen, and after that, life starts again,” Khosroazad shared.

Mustafa and Esra Ugur ZOR, a couple from Turkey, came to the Coffee Hour to celebrate Nowruz with the UMaine community. They shared that similarly to Iranians, they clean the entire house before they welcome Nowruz.

“We clean the house for the spring’s start, and it means spring cleaning. Everything is getting new, clean, and rejuvenated,” Esra Ugur ZOR shared.

Turkish families also visit their family members on that day, from the eldest to the youngest.

Mustafa and Esra ZOR celebrated Nowruz with their Iranian friends on March 21.

“We enjoy hanging out with the Iranian people because they are kind, helpful and generous.

Because they are our neighbors, a lot of our traditions are similar: the food, music, and family importance,” Mustafa ZOR said.

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