First family joins Iranian Americans in celebrating Nowruz

President Obama sends best wishes to everyone celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In this video message he speaks directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran about a path of greater opportunity for the Iranian people.

About a million people of Iranian descent call the United States home. For the past week, they too have been preparing to celebrate the holiday, which falls on March 20 in 2015.

Nowruz means “new day” and marks the start of spring and the beginning of the Persian calendar. The theme of renewal is at the heart of the 12-day festival, which begins with spring house cleaning and continues with special foods and gatherings with family and friends.

Iranians and Iranian Americans of all religions observe Nowruz traditions. One of the most important is setting the Haft Seen table, which includes seven items beginning with the Persian letter S that symbolize spring.

Objects found on a typical Haft Seen table. (State Dept.)

On March 11, first lady Michelle Obama hosted her second Nowruz celebration at the White House. The event featured a Persian dinner and a traditional dance performance.

“I think it’s so fitting that we’re holding this celebration here today, because one of my favorite things about the White House is how it is truly the People’s House — a house that reflects the diversity of culture and traditions that make us who we are as a country,” the first lady said. “And Nowruz is one of those traditions.”

Iranians are not the only ones who celebrate Nowruz. More than 300 million people worldwide, including other Middle Eastern and Central Asian peoples, observe the holiday.