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Online Nowruz connects Americans to the world
March 20, 2021

A traditional Persian New Year table setting incorporates seven items that each symbolize something important, such as beauty, longevity or patience. (© Ali Sadr)

Millions of Americans will celebrate the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on March 20.

Nowruz welcomes the arrival of spring, coinciding with the vernal equinox (when the sun moves across the Earth’s equator, evenly splitting daytime and nighttime hours). The celebration originated in ancient Persia, but it has also been observed by diverse communities in Central Asia, Western Asia, South Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Black Sea Basin for more than 3,000 years.

In the U.S., museums and cultural centers host Nowruz festivities. This year, because of the pandemic, they will reach out through the internet.

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, for example, will present a live, online demonstration of how to prepare kuku (a traditional Persian egg dish), as well as videos of performances by the Iranian contemporary dance troupe Aisan Hoss and Dancers.

Kuku sabzi omelet made of herbs, eggs and nuts is served with yogurt. (© AS Food studio/Shutterstock)

The museum’s website will also host storytelling to highlight Persian history and culture, and online visitors will learn about the traditional Nowruz table setting, haft sin, a ceremonial spread with seven symbolic items to help usher in a happy, prosperous year.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which houses the largest collection of artifacts from the ancient Middle East in the United States, will invite online visitors to learn about Persian history from scholars, play ancient board games, and listen to stories.

Christopher Woods, director of the institute, says the events will honor Persian culture and history while stressing the relevance of the institute’s work and its collaboration with Iranian peers, including Iranian archaeologists and antiquities experts.

Rastak band members (Negar Ezazi, right, playing the daf, a large tambourine, and Piran Mohajeri, playing the oud) perform onstage. (© Avahid Salemi/AP Images)

The nonprofit Persian Cultural Center of San Diego will offer a concert through its Facebook, YouTube and Instagram sites. The concert will feature Rastak, an Iranian band that reinterprets Persian folk music by incorporating contemporary rhythms. According to the center’s board member Ali Sadr, the organization’s virtual programming will also feature the Persian Dance Academy performing folk dances.

“Music has a great role in every aspect of our lives and all cultural events,” Sadr said.

In Iran and in neighboring countries, families typically celebrate Nowruz for 13 days, Sadr said. “In the diaspora, since most people are away from their [extended] families, we have opted to celebrate together.” In pre-pandemic years, that meant a live concert and dance performance, where spectators — including children — were welcome to join the dancers.

“This year, we are prepared and will celebrate virtually,” Sadr said. “We are expecting thousands of people around the country and the world, including in Iran, to join us.”