Boston celebrates Persian holiday Nowruz to welcome spring

Boston celebrates Persian holiday Nowruz to welcome spring

Written by Kaelen Encarnacion

The annual Persian New Year Festival, Nowruz, meaning “new day,” marks the beginning of spring and has been celebrated in Persia for centuries, eventually spreading as a worldwide festivity. On March 17, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) held a Nowruz festival of their own, bringing the celebration to Boston.

The New Year festival, which lasts 13 days, is celebrated during the vernal equinox when the day and night are the same length. The festival celebrates the ideas of life and rebirth, which serves to create feelings of hope, peace, and good fortune among those who observe it.

During the event, the MFA showcased many facets of Persian culture, including calligraphy, dancing, music, and artwork. With the emphasis of the festival being on inclusivity and increasing awareness of Persian culture, the museum was bustling with energy as visitors from all ethnic backgrounds and religions moved between the museum’s courtyard and galleries offering art-making activities and musical demonstrations.


Photo by David Byunn

Beginning at 10 a.m., the first part of the festival included a large and colorful Haft-Seen display in the Shapiro Family Courtyard (pictured above.) The display is of a traditional table that is central to Nowruz celebrations, and includes seven symbolic items that all begin with the Persian letter “sīn.” For example, it typically has sabzeh, or sprouts, which are meant to represent life, rebirth, and fertility. It can also have somaq, or sumac berries, to represent the color of the sunrise, which symbolizes how the coming of the sun reflects good conquering evil. Many visitors were drawn to this display, and a few touched on what this celebration meant to them.

“My daughter is kind of bicultural because my husband is American,” said Mahta Ostovari, an Iranian woman who came to experience the event. “So this is a great way, actually despite the fact that our government currently doesn’t care about Iran and our culture and who we are, other people do. So it’s good for her to see my culture get celebrated in a place we live.”

In the afternoon, a large crowd gathered in the courtyard to watch Shooka Afshar’s project “Childhood,” which involved storytelling through the combination of live music from the Sarzameen Ensemble. Performers Bahareh and Farzaneh Safarani painted scenes from the lyrics onto a canvas.

In other parts of the museum, visitors watched performances and took part in creating traditional Persian art while listening to classical Persian music. Visitors could draw a karkadann, a mythical Persian creature that has a single horn on its head (pictured below,) or create their own miniature Haft-Seen display. People could also watch a storytelling session about Nowruz celebrations, an exhibit of contemporary Persian calligraphy, and performances by prominent Persian musicians like Sepideh Raissadat and Farzin Dehghan and dancers from the Boston-based Aftab Dance Group.

Photo by David Byunn

Ending at 5 p.m., Nowruz at the MFA was a lively affair that allowed visitors to experience Persian culture. The event resembled a large party more than an exhibition, and the feelings of happiness, camaraderie, and hope were definitely achieved.


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