An Iranian-American celebrates the new year in Charleston 

Happy Nowrooz

Almost four years ago, I drove into Charleston, seeing a skyline of steeples and a beautiful bridge spanning the water. I moved here for the beauty and lifestyle the Lowcountry provides, thinking that there can't really be that many Iranian-Americans here.

I was correct. It took almost an entire year for me to meet someone similar. That's a stark contrast to having lived in L.A. where a part of the city is called "Tehran-Geles."

The last thing I suspected, living in Charleston, was to find a community of people celebrating a New Year celebration called Nowrooz — literally translated from Persian as "New Day." Even though the number of Iranian-Americans in the Lowcountry ranges between 200-400, every year the community meets to greet one another.

Nowrooz is from an ancient religion called Zoroastrianism, which predated the modern Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. At its peak, the Persian Empire in modern day Iran, during the reigns of kings such as Cyrus and Darius, encompassed most of the known world.

Just like Thanksgiving or Christmas, during Nowrooz families get together to eat, drink, and be festive. Many gather in open spaces like parks and share wide varieties of foods — I'd need an entire newspaper to describe them all. In many families, including my own, grandmothers and mothers would prepare a whole white fish served with with herbed white rice called "sabzi polo mahi."

Nowrooz is a unique festival where Iranians of all religious backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities celebrate. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Baha'is, living in Iran, Afghanistan, Sweden, or America lay out a display called a "Haft-Seen" — seven items picked from nature denoting blossoming and the recycling of life in spring. At sunset on the Wednesday before Nowrooz, on the vernal equinox, people jump over a fire singing a prayer, which is considered a purifying practice.

Maybe not surprisingly, Nowrooz has also taken on political significance. In the 1970s, the last Shah of Iran used the festivities to mark 2,500 years of the Persian Empire. The founders of the Islamic Revolution wanted to cancel Nowrooz because it marks a pagan holiday. That didn't really stick as Iranians continued to celebrate the festival through revolution and war. Now, it's a national holiday in Iran, during which much of the country shuts down for nearly two weeks.

Today, the Zoroastrian religion is dwindling in numbers, but many people in Iran wear jewelry or even have tattoos of Ahura Mazda, a high prophet, in defiance of the Islamic regime and as an homage to years past.

What's also unique about Zoroastrianism and Nowrooz is that it's not celebrating the birth of a god, but of life.

Because the vernal equinox changes each year, people across the world mark their calendars for specific times. This week in Charleston on Wed. March 20 at 5:58 p.m., it will be the year 2578, so I wish you a "happy Nowrooz." Or "Nowrooz Pirouz," have a victorious new year.

Rouzy Vafaie is second vice-chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party.


Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Classified Listings
Most Viewed

Powered by Foundation   © Copyright 2019, Charleston City Paper   RSS