Nowruz (or Navruz, Norooz, Nawruz, Norouz, Navrooz, Newroz, Nowroj, etc.) has as many ways of celebrating as it does different spellings. Though originally a celebration of Zoroastrianism or maybe even Mitraism thousands of years ago, Nowruz has since spread well beyond these groups. Today, these ancient traditions are practiced in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Zanzibar, Turkey, and more. The United Nations officially recognized the holiday as The International Day of Nowruz, further emphasizing its international nature.
"Nowruz Selfie" an animation by Rashin Kheyriyah for the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies
It was with this in mind that Ruzbeh Jamshidi, president of the University of Maryland Iranian Graduate Student Foundation, began to plan the organizations first internationally focused Nowruz celebration. Contacting the embassy of Afghanistan and representatives from Tajikistan, Mr. Jamshidi stretched beyond national boundaries for this annual celebration. On March 11, 2016, the event finally came together and sold out. Traditional Iranian and Afghan musical groups performed followed by a Tajik dance. An Iranian Haft sin (a collection of seven items beginning with the letter sin) was set up next to an Afghan Haft mewa (a collection of seven different dried fruits). Visitors were greeted with a Haji Firuz (Iranian Nowruz figure who sings joyful songs), Iranian food, and Persian poetry.
Although the audience was primarily Iranian, the event focused on the internationality of Persian culture and the celebration of Nowruz. “We intend our communal effort to transcend national differences as we cherish the local colors the Nowruz tradition has absorbed over time,” explains Mr. Jamshidi. He cites three outcomes he hoped this event would achieve:
Showcasing Nowruz as shared cultural heritage challenges assumptions of cultural superiority or ownership.
This collaborative effort can help foster a dialogue about national and cultural identity.
The larger campus community has an opportunity to learn about this festive side of these Middle Eastern cultures.
The excitement of this multicultural event was shared among many of the performers, as well. Mahnoz Janmahmadova, one of the MCs of the evening, represents both Iranian and Tajik cultures; her mother is from Yazd, Iran, and her father from Dushanbe, Tajikistan. An American woman and an Afghan man comprise Tabla for Two, an Afghan music group. The Silk Road Dancers are a multinational group that performed both Iranian and Tajik dances. These performances represented the cultural and national mixing inherent in the modern celebration of Nowruz.
The question of Persian identity is not one that can be dealt with in the course of an evening, but the Iranian graduate students are ushering in the new year with an intentional direction and broad perspective on this question.