Thursday, March 14, 2019

What You Need to Know to Celebrate Persian New Year!

Persian New Year, Nowruz, starts on the first day of Spring. The exact beginning moment of Nowruz is calculated precisely every year at the stroke of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator. This year it will happen on March 20.

The term Nowruz is a Persian compound word. The first word “now” means new and the second word “ruz” means day; together they mean “New Day.” It is a secular festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years and enjoyed by people of several different faiths. The traditions of Nowruz were originated in Iran; however, it has been celebrated among people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada and the United States.

Families gather together around a ceremonial table known as the Haftseen for the countdown and observing the rituals. In every home, the haftseen table is decorated with seven items – since seven is considered a lucky number. Each item begins with the letter sin (s) in Persian, and each item represents a different symbol:
  1. Seeb (apple), representing beauty
  2. Seer (garlic), representing good health
  3. Serkeh (vinegar), representing patience
  4. Sonbol (hyacinth), representing spring
  5. Samanu (sweet pudding), representing fertility
  6. Sabzeh (sprouts), representing rebirth
  7. Sekeh (coins), representing prosperity
Other words beginning with the letter "s" can also be used, such as the spice sumac, its brilliant gold color representing the sunrise, or senjed, a dried fruit of the Lotus tree, representing love.

Haftseen tables can also include a religious or poetry book (representing Knowledge), a mirror and candles (reflecting into the future), a goldfish swimming in a bowl (representing life), painted eggs (representing fertility), and all kinds of sweets and fruits. 

Nowruz is also a time for spring cleaning, buying new clothes, visiting friends and relatives and renewing bonds. Nowruz festivities lasts 13 days, and during this time schools are closed, and most offices are closed for the first four days. People attend different parties, visit their loved ones, relatives and friends, get together and travel. On the 13th day of the New Year, the celebrations finally end. Since the 13th is an unlucky day, entire families go on picnics and take with them the sprouts (sabzeh) from the haftseen table. The sabzeh is thrown into flowing water, symbolizing a "letting go" of the misfortunes of the coming year.

The spirit of Nowruz is reflected in the renewal of the earth, the flower blossoms, the beautiful colors of the spring, bringing hope and inspiration.


Blog by ICSC Co-Leader Haniyeh Zamani

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Where Do You Belong?

I lived in a vibrant coastal city called Chennai in the southern part of India for the first 17 years of my life. I discovered my love for travelling and experiencing new cultures when I was 16. I applied for a cultural exchange program to Japan. Travelling to Japan was an experience that changed my life.

Japan turned the fussy eater in me into a foodie. I fell in love with Japanese cuisine. Japanese food tantalized my taste buds and made me crave cuisines from around the world. I spent a week travelling to some of the major Japanese cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meeting a 96-year old survivor of the Nagasaki bombing taught me that strength and perseverance come from within your soul and that there should be nothing that keeps you from getting up every time you fall. I became more optimistic in the way I perceive hardships.

After 5 years, I was ecstatic to visit the land of the rising sun again! I got an opportunity to work on stem cell research at the University of Tokyo. That was one of the best summers of my life, and I truly discovered myself. My solo adventures taught me that I don’t need a group of people to have fun, and that I should never refrain from doing things I love just because there is no one else who wants to do it with me. I felt empowered and content in my solitude. And along the way I met some wonderful people who taught me to be more spontaneous, to let go of things that cannot be controlled, to be free.

Slowly and steadily, travel helped me evolve into newer and better versions of myself. Last summer, I traveled to Israel. The concept of Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, seemed strange to me at first. It starts with sunset on Friday and ends with sunset on Saturday evening marking the end of a week and the beginning of a new one. This day of rest is meant to be a break from work, using electronic equipment and cooking. I was exposed to this culture during the summer vacation of graduate school, the busiest time of my life, a time when squeezing an assignment between coffee and breakfast in the morning was a satisfying accomplishment; a time when it felt like there is so much work that you might forget to breathe. This was a beautiful break from my hectic life. After experiencing Sabbath, I found new meaning and pleasure in living a slow-paced life, in resting my mind and soul from the rigor of this busy and modern world we live in, a world that thinks the busier you are the more accomplished you must be.

Travel has never failed to sculpt me into a newer and more nuanced version of myself. Every time, I travel, I take back with me a piece of culture and countless memories that give my life greater meaning. But the more I travel, the less I feel like I belong to just one city or town. Having lived in so many different places, I often catch myself wondering, where do I belong? The only answer I can come up with is ... maybe everywhere, all at once. After all, the world is one big city, and we are all one people.

Aruna Muthukumar
International Center Student Council