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The Persian Culture Society hosts a vibrant and welcoming Nowruz celebration

PCS brought music, dancing and a sense of community Saturday to celebrate Nowruz amidst Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month

One way PCS honors those fighting for freedom in Iran is through the tradition of the all girls dance — this year, it was performed by five women in PCS’s Nowruz celebration.
One way PCS honors those fighting for freedom in Iran is through the tradition of the all girls dance — this year, it was performed by five women in PCS’s Nowruz celebration.

The Persian Culture Society at the University hosted their Nowruz celebration Saturday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Newcomb Ballroom — families, friends and community members gathered before a stage and a table at the front and center decorated with Haft-Sin. Haft-Sin is a tradition meant to symbolize hopes for a happy new year. Literally translating to the “seven S,” the table is adorned with seven objects, including apples, garlic, vinegar and other items which all start with the letter S in Farsi. 

The excitement in the ballroom was palpable as audience members clapped to the beat of performances and entered raffles sponsored by local restaurants like Bodo’s Bagels, Trinity Irish Pub and Insomnia Cookies. Attendees lined the Newcomb halls in anticipation of the catered Moby Dick House of Kabob, bringing authentic Persian food to the plates of attendees. 

Nowruz, the celebration of Persian New Year, celebrates the spring equinox and provides an opportunity for millions of people across the Middle East to reflect on the past year and set goals for the future. The Persian Culture Society at the University fosters a community to celebrate Nowruz with student performances of dance, rap and piano, as well as offering a space to reflect and rejoice for a new chapter of life.

Daria London, PCS publicity chair and third-year College student, talked about the effort it took to put on the Nowruz celebration.

“There's a lot of practices leading up to the event and then figuring out the program order and then having it all come together at the end,” London said. “In addition, there's publicity, like Instagram graphics, doing the program, the t-shirt”.

The celebration was co-hosted by London and Ardavan Davoodi, first-year College student and Advocacy Committee member and PCS member. From the longstanding tradition of dances and Daf performances — a traditional Persian drum — to an emerging expressive art form in Persian culture, rap, there was no shortage of cultural, creative and political expression throughout the evening. 

Farah Lankarani, PCS advocacy chair and third-year College student notes the importance of keeping Iranian spirits high abroad to strengthen morale of those fighting for justice

“I think that the number one thing the Iranian regime wants to see is depression, hopelessness and desperation in our community,” Lankarani said. “And that's exactly why we have to keep our culture and our heritage and our celebrations alive. We have to keep that Iranian joy there and spread it because otherwise we'll just be hopeless and living in this state that they would wanna see us in.”

Emcees Davoodi and London welcomed attendees with joy, humor and celebration, but also recognized the unique dedication of this year’s Nowruz Celebration. The event intermixed celebratory and artistic performances to celebrate their heritage while still underscoring the plight of people in Iran actively fighting for their freedom. London said that the event was dedicated to those Iranians.

One way PCS honors those fighting for freedom in Iran is through the tradition of the all girls dance — this year, it was performed by five women in PCS’s Nowruz celebration. The dance, lasting about three minutes, underwent multiple beat switches. Starting with a traditional song and dance, the dance then moved into a more upbeat tune when the performers took off the hijab they were wearing, eliciting an eruption of cheers from the audience. Finally, the dance ended in shimmying and the song Jigili by Amir Tataloo and Ardalan Tomeh as other PCS members joined the five performers on stage. 

The all girls dance was choreographed by second-year College student Sahar Asghari and  Lankarani. Lankarani noted the political aspect of the all girls dance and the symbolism of taking off their hijab midway through the dance.

“We took off our hijabs in solidarity with women in Iran,” Lankarani said. “All girls this year was really a tribute to the women in Iran who are fighting every day. They're losing their lives. There's girls being poisoned in their schools … terrible things. So it was a tribute to them and it was a way of us keeping their joy alive for them.”

According to Davoodi, this significance of Nowruz amidst political unrest in Iran applies to the very way people wish each other a happy Nowruz.

“To say ‘happy Nowruz,’ we say, ‘Nowruz Mubarak, but we also say ‘Nowruz Pirooz’, which means we hope it's a victorious Nowruz,” Davoodi said. “And that's especially important because we want victory for the people in our country against a regime that doesn't care for them and their rights”.

A sense of community and strength is not only important for supporting Iranians abroad, but also in the University community. To support members of the Persian community on Grounds, Davoodi and London encouraged attendees to donate to PCS’s newly implemented Persian Youth Education Scholarship, an award of $1,000 given to two low-income Persian students. 

Support and recognition of the Persian community are two of the main goals of the Persian Cultural Society in terms of community outreach, according to Davoodi. As a secular holiday, Nowruz is an opportunity for community members of Persian descent and non-Persian descent to come together to celebrate new beginnings and share the joys of Persian culture. Lankarani said that she enjoyed seeing how non-Iranian students also joined to participate in the performances and how it can foster more unity between students.

“We connect with other U.Va. students … by just sharing our culture with them,” Lankarani said. “We had several people in our performance that were not Iranian, that just joined for fun. I just think that's a great way for them to learn more about us as people and our culture, because I know there's a lot of division right now between all different ethnic and racial groups.”

From within and outside the Iranian community, support from students, faculty, family and other community members brings a sense of union to a community whose union strengthens them to fight for justice. Furthermore, fostering a sense of community within PCS itself has been important and meaningful for Nicki Abianeh, PCS president and fourth-year College student, to witness. 

Finishing with a tribute video to those fighting in Iran and highlighting the work PCS has done to recognize that fight, Abianeh notes on the reception of PCS’s Nowruz. 

“This Nowruz was so special to me,” Abianeh said. “I'm so proud of all of [the executive board] and the advocacy committee… I know parents really appreciated [the tribute video]. It really showed off everything we've accomplished here”.


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