By Madeline Herron
For The Diamondback

For many University of Maryland students observing the Persian New Year, a holiday referred to as Nowruz, in-person celebrations had to be adapted this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Nowruz, which has a variety of spellings referred to by those who celebrate, means “new day” and occurs every year on the first day of spring.

Some people, such as Nikki Emamian, a sophomore general biology and public health science major, meet with friends and family over the thirteen days after Nowruz to share new year’s wishes.

“Picture a wedding, but like, multiple of these happening over the course of a week or two,” Emamian said. “It’s everyone getting together, eating food, dancing.”

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This year, Nowruz fell on Saturday, March 20, but the Iranian Student Foundation at this university delayed their campus celebration to April 10 so they could get approval for in-person gatherings from the Stamp Student Union.

After this university lifted some COVID-19 restrictions, the ISF could host a 50-person socially-distanced celebration outside Hornbake Library on Saturday.

In past years, celebrations, which were held at the student union or the Alumni Center, featured gatherings of up to 400 people. But despite this year’s attendance restrictions, members of the ISF tried to make the event feel like any past years’ while still complying with university guidelines.

“Celebrating these traditions reminds us of our native lands, our native tongue and, you know, just like, our upbringing,” said Nakisa Rafiee, a sophomore finance and information systems major. “We really want to honor that and stay true to our identity.”

For students to be allowed to attend, they had to RSVP for the event on a first-come, first-served basis.
The celebration lasted about four hours and included music, dancing and trivia, as well as the opportunity to socialize with other members of this university’s Persian community.

Ghormeh sabzi, a Persian stew of beef, herbs and red beans served with rice, is usually served at ISF’s new year’s celebration. But due to COVID-19 safety precautions, traditional meals weren’t served at this year’s event.

Another part of the event involved participants playing a trivia game with questions based on Iran and Nowruz. They were able to score extra points by identifying the title and artists of clips of Iranian pop songs.

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“It was so nice for everybody to get together and have this moment away from our classrooms, away from Zoom and away from staring at a computer screen,” Rafiee said. “It’s good to actually have face-to-face interaction, even if we were social distancing and having masks on.”

Sara Garmchi, ISF’s vice president of programming, was in charge of organizing the event.

In the holiday’s spirit of new beginnings, new friendships blossomed at the celebration between the freshman and other students new to the campus community that had yet to meet in person, said the sophomore psychology major.

“I knew them through our Zoom meetings, but I met them for the first time and they didn’t really have any friends, but then they met each other and they became friends,” Garmchi said. “It was really fun for them to be able to actually like hang out with other Persian people in person.”

Although this year’s celebration may have looked different than in years’ past, students in ISF are hopeful that future celebrations will return to normal.

Rafiee said she hopes to encourage more members of the university community to join celebrations — including those for Yalda, which falls on the longest day of the year and is the celebration of the winter solstice.

“You don’t have to be Iranian,” Rafiee said. “Just come and enjoy food, enjoy the performances and the dances in the fall for Yalda, and also in the spring again for Nowruz next year.”