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Happy Nowruz

March 20, 2022 at 8:33 AM marks the Persian New Year or Nowruz, which literally means “new day”. My family and I will join around 300 million people worldwide to celebrate this ancient tradition.

I spent my formative years in Iran which encompassed the 1979 revolution and much of the 1980-1988 war before immigrating to Ohio. During a time when most people in Iran were seeking bomb shelters almost every night, I and most of the other children found hope and inner peace by looking forward to Nowruz, when no matter how poor and deprived, we knew we were getting new (or almost new) clothes, shoes, toys and nominal amount of money. We were also guaranteed 13 days off from school which was the icing on the cake.

The 3000-year history of Nowruz begins on the spring equinox and has its origins in Zoroastrianism. This ancient religion features monotheistic beliefs which has greatly influenced subsequent faiths and philosophies. I visited the birthplace of Zoroastrianism in Yazd, central part of Iran, in the 2000s, and would highly recommend it to the adventurous types.

These days I don’t necessarily look forward to the gifts or money though my twins do, rather what I enjoy the most is setting up the haft seen “seven things with the sound/ letter Stable. Usually and often very last minute, I am scrambling to order a few items online, such as samanoo (sweet pudding), senjed (wild olive), and sumaq (a particular spice which is great with kabobs). The rest of the items I can usually find them around the house, such as sabje (sprouts that we grow at home), serkeh (vinegar), seer (garlic) and seeb (apple). Surrounding these items are usually (fake) gold coins, (painted) eggs, mirror, candles, bowl of water with gold fish (they don’t last long in our house) and a poetry book (usually Hafez, Rumi or Ferdowsi). The main struggle is not setting up the haft seen, rather fending off the twins (and the dog) from eating or nibbling on the items (or in case of fake coins, from claiming them).

In recent years, I have started to walk the twins through what these haft seen items symbolize. I usually lose them after the second one, but I have 13 days to persist. I talk about power and strength (samanoo), love (senjed), sunrise (sumaq), rebirth and growth (sabje), patience (serkeh), health and medicine (seer) and beauty (seeb). Though my knowledge of the Persian mythology written as an epic poem in the Shahnameh is limited, I do try to weave in a few short stories about some of the characters in relation to these symbols.

I do all this partly to fulfill my sense of identity and enjoy the nostalgia, and partly to instill a sense of heritage and global belonging in my twins. My hope for Jahanara and Payvand is that they learn about and own their ancestors’ legacy, so that they don’t let their parents’ heritage and the implicit stereotypes define them. They will have the choice of shaping their own characters and values.

I also wish for them to think and act both locally and globally. I want them to deeply care about the plight of hundreds of thousands of people affected by the current war in Europe. And I want them to equally exhibit compassion and understanding for the millions of forcibly displaced people in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Sudan.

I want for them to feel what it’s like to have your country, such as several small islands nations in the Pacific, be swallowed up by the sea because of climate change and crisis. It was my personal tipping point after visiting and working in Kiribati with UNICEF a few years ago.

I also want my twins to appreciate all the material things and opportunities that they do have and not take for granted that they can celebrate Nowruz and their daddy’s traditions in this wonderful country where we have freedoms that others can only imagine. We still have a lot of work to do in the US, especially when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as social justice, and the fact that I can say that publicly without worrying about retaliation is a testimony to our aspirations of becoming the best version of ourselves.

Happy Nowruz.

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