For Younes Miar and his wife Shima Borzouie, Nowruz runs in their blood.
“It’s something that’s written in our DNA, I believe,” said Miar. “I work in genetics, so I talk always about DNA.”
On Friday, Miar and Borzouie joined roughly 100 other people celebrating the Persian New Year at Dal AC, celebrating a festival dating back millennia even though they are thousands of miles from Iran.
For Borzouie, Nowruz in Truro brought back fond memories of her family still in the old country.
She grew up in Iran’s capital Tehran, but her family’s old home was the southern city of Shiraz, where cherry trees blossomed in the spring.
All of her family gathered at home for Nowruz, including Borzouie’s grandparents.
And for Iranian children, such family gatherings often mean one thing: payday.
“Instead of getting gifts, all the children got money, which is called ‘Eidi’, from their relatives,” recalled Borzouie. “I loved getting money as a gift. As a smart girl, I was buying jewellery for myself.”
Today, both Borzouie and Miar are thousands of miles from their families, but their love for Nowruz remains undimmed.
Miar’s parents will be in London, England, with his sister for the Persian New Year. Both husband and wife will be speaking with their loved ones abroad with Skype.
“We feel there is no change,” said Borzouie. “I’m a modern girl, but I love following traditions and Nowruz is for me the most important ceremony.”
Both husband and wife emigrated to Canada about eight years ago. Borzouie, 30, is completing her PhD at Dal AC. Miar, 36, is an assistant professor at the university’s department of animal science and aquaculture.
While they are comparatively recent arrivals, Hossain Farid first arrived in Canada in the 1980s. Both him and his wife Flora Riyahi have served as adopted family of sorts for Miar and Borzouie, with whom they celebrated Nowruz in Truro.
“Canada is my home and my country,” said Farid. “Iran is no longer my country. However, the tradition and family and everyone is there. I believe most Iranians feel like that.”
The Nowruz celebration at Dal AC featured classical Persian music by Beyond Borders, West African rhythms from the Drum Runners and dancing.
This year’s Nowruz will be marked on March 20 at 6:58 p.m., the spring equinox.
What is Nowruz?
Nowruz literally means ‘new day’ in Farsi and falls on the March equinox every year.
On the last Wednesday before Nowruz, Iranians jump over small fires in the festival of Chaharshanbe Soori, to symbolically cleanse themselves of any negativity from the old year. Children also run from house to house collecting candies, similar to trick-or-treating on Halloween.
For Nowruz itself, families gather around a ceremonial table called the haft sin, seven items beginning with the letter ‘s’ in Persian.
The haft sin includes sabzi, green wheat or lentil sprouts grown in a dish symbolizing rebirth; samanu, a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat for health; senjed, dried fruit from the oleaster tree for love; seer (garlic) for medicine, sib (apples) for beauty, serkeh (vinegar) for age and patience; and sumac berries representing the sunrise.
Many Iranian families also decorate their haft sins with mirrors, candles, coins, sweets, goldfish, painted eggs, hyacinth flowers, holy books or works of poetry by Hafiz or Rumi.
Finally, on the 13th day of Nowruz, families picnic in parks and woods on sizdeh bedar, throwing their haft sin sabzi into rivers or streams.
Both Chaharshanbe Soori and Nowruz stem from the ancient Zoroastrian faith, of which there still a few thousand believers in Iran today. For them, they remain holy days as well as an Iranian national tradition.
Nowruz today is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, parts of the former Soviet Union including Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as Kurdish areas in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
Nowruz is also celebrated further afield in the Balkans, as well as by Persian and Kurdish-speaking communities across the world.