Dig Baton Rouge

New Day

By Tara Bennett

Growing up as an Iranian-American, March 21 will be one of the most important days of the year for Melisa Abdollahi-Rad. It may be just another 24 hours in the year, but for Abdollahi-Rad, it’s a time to appreciate her rich culture and heritage in honor of Nowruz.

Pronounced no-rooz, Nowruz (literally translated as “new day”) is celebrated by over 75 million people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in lands that once belonged to the Persian Empire. Today, Nowruz is a secular holiday that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths and cultures.

Coinciding with the spring equinox, this year Nowruz falls on March 21th and marks the first day of the Iranian calendar. According to Abdollahi-Rad, some of the traditions include wearing new clothes, making wishes, visiting family, and “fire jumping” to rid the bad and welcome the good in preparation for Nowruz. A month before Nowruz, there is an expression of “turning the house upside down” while preparing for the New Year.

“And that’s where spring cleaning comes from,” said Abdollahi-Rad. “That’s why we do that. You’re welcoming the New Year, the whole house should be clean, should be rid of all the old, and unneeded things in preparation for the New Year.”

Elevator Projects in conjunction with LSU’s Iranian Student Association (ISA) will commemorate the Persian New Year by hosting a celebratory event at the Walls Project Art & Design Center on Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m. Abdollahi-Rad, who has worked for the Walls Project and Elevator Projects, felt like it was the perfect time to jump in and make a public event for Nowruz, which will the first one for Baton Rouge.

Serving as the Nowruz event coordinator, Abdollahi-Rad developed the event after seeing a need to connect the local community to Persian culture.

“I love Louisiana and I love Iran,” said Abdollahi-Rad. “I don’t think there is any other place in the world like Louisiana and the people who have grown up here are very lucky to grow up surrounded by so much culture. It’s important for people to learn ‘Iranian’ is not a bad word…and we can change that by sharing.”

The Nowruz celebration will feature food, music, 3000 years of tradition, art installations, performances by local Persian pop singer Pedram Jahanmard, a short film about Nowruz traditions, and more. The evening will also include the first ever all-Iranian art exhibition in the Walls Art & Design Center. Abdollahi-Rad also recommends wearing your dancing shoes because there will be plenty of dancing on the dance floor.

But along with the partying, attendees of the event will learn about the importance of the day. The ISA will create a traditional “haft-seen” that will be on display. Haft is the Persian word for the number seven and seen for the letter “S.” A symbolic illustration of Nowruz, the “haft seen” is a ceremonial table spread, including at least seven items whose names start with the letter “S” in the Persian alphabet.

“It’s sort of like the Christmas tree of Nowruz,” said Abdollahi-Rad.

Creating the haft-seen table is a Persian family tradition that begins by spreading a special family cloth on the table, and setting it with the seven S items which include Sumac (crushed spice of berries) to symbolize the sunrise and the spice of life, Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree) for love and affection, Serkeh (vinegar) for patience and age, Seeb (apples) for health and beauty, Sir (garlic) for good health, Samanu (wheat pudding) for fertility and the sweetness of life, and Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass) for rebirth and renewal of nature.

Abdollahi-Rad intends for this event to become a tradition for Baton Rouge. Cocktail attire is suggested. Tickets for the event are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. To purchase tickets, visit EventBrite.com.

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