Houston, Texas, is an unexpected place* to run into Nowruz, the ancient New Year celebration. Yet, as the spring sun rises in the United States, families in Houston and cities across the country celebrate this day of hope and renewal.
Every year, Americans with roots in Eurasian countries organize public festivals featuring music, dancing, and food to mark the Nowruz holidays. In cities from New York to Los Angeles, Chicago to Houston, Americans introduce and inspire others unfamiliar with Nowruz and its celebrations.
One such American is Laurel Victoria Gray, who teaches world dance at George Washington University and founded the Silk Road Dance Company. With a repertoire of 200 dances from Central Asia, Iran, the Middle East, South Asia and the Caucasus, the company regularly performs at Nowruz festivals, including one at the White House.
Welcoming the Silk Road Dance Company and other guests at the Nowruz celebration, first lady Michelle Obama noted that “for more than 3,000 years, families and communities in the Middle East, Asia, and all around the world, including here in the United States, have celebrated this holiday to mark the renewal of the earth in springtime.”
For Vladimir Fedorenko, president of the Tajik American Cultural Association, Nowruz in America offers a chance to showcase his community while sharing its culture with others. “We would like to show that our celebration is not restricted to the confines of the Tajik community,” Fedorenko said. “This is a good opportunity for people to intermingle and enjoy conversation, share ideas and learn different cultural practices.”
Shahla Ahmadi, president of the Afghan-American Women’s Association, said Afghans practice the common ritual of setting a table (Haft Seen) with seven items in a particular Afghani fashion, called Haft Mewa.
Ahmadi said that for the Afghan table, “we take seven dried fruits and we soak them in water a week before the new year. We also cook white rice with spinach to mark the new year.”
This year the tradition continues. Organizers of the 2016 festival in Tysons Corner, Virginia, told journalists: “The fourth Nowruz Festival marks another year of continued motivation, celebration and success. All the artists, musicians, performers, business owners, and food, goods and product providers who are participating share in our vision of honoring and celebrating Persian traditions and culture.”
* Nowruz is celebrated in a wide swath of communities, among which are communities in Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.