By Max Cassett

For The Diamondback

More than 250 University of Maryland community members celebrated the Persian festival Yalda Friday at the Samuel Riggs Alumni Center.

The event, hosted by this university’s Iranian Students’ Foundation, included traditional Persian music, dancing and food. After a one-year hiatus, the celebration returned to the university this year.

Yalda — “birth” in Syriac — is a Persian holiday celebrating the winter solstice. Yalda, which was originally incorporated into the rituals of the ancient Iranian religion Zoroastrianism, “reflects the importance of family ties and respect for the elderly,” according to the Iranian Cultural and Educational Center.

The festival takes place on Dec. 21, but was celebrated early by this university’s ISF to allow students to enjoy the festivities together before winter break, according to ISF special events coordinator Sam Bashiri.

“It’s a holiday in our Iranian culture, where we get together with family [and] friends, tell stories and just spend time together,” said Bashiri, a senior biology major.

Friday’s festivities included traditional Persian food such as rice, chickpeas and kebabs as well as several fruits including apples, grapes, watermelon and pomegranate. Fruit, especially pomegranate, is a symbol of Yalda, Bashiri added.

[UMD student performs at Vice President Kamala Harris’ Diwali event]

Traditional Persian music was also performed at the event with performances on the Daf drum — a Middle Eastern frame drum instrument — and traditional dances.

Remembering the victims of last year’s violence in Iran was another prominent theme on Friday.

Attendees held a moment of silence to remember the victims of nationwide protests in Iran in 2022. The protests came after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman. Amini died while in custody by the nation’s “morality police” in September 2022 for “allegedly violating the country’s mandatory headscarf law,” the Associated Press reported.

Amini’s death sparked nationwide outrage as protests took place across the nation. More than 500 people were killed and more than 22,000 people were detained during the protests, the Associated Press reported.

In light of the violence, this university’s ISF did not hold an event commemorating Yalda last year and opted to hold a vigil in solidarity with the victims, Bashiri said.

Senior information systems and operations management and business analytics major Cameron Jarvandi, ISF’s senior advisor and sports coordinator, said the organization did not want to “ignore” the events in Iran last year.

“We felt like it would be wrong of us to do a fun night,” Jarvandi said. “So instead, we transitioned, pretty much entirely focusing on what was going on and be more respectful towards it.”

[Diyas illuminate McKeldin Mall as UMD community celebrates Diwali]

To support Iran, ISF held a silent auction at Friday’s event, where most of the prizes were made in Iran.

Senior biology major Arianna Khoshkou, the ISF philanthropy chair, said ISF donates to charities and fundraisers such as Kids of Kermanshah, which helps children living in poverty in Iran, and the Omid Foundation, which provides support for women of Iranian descent who are survivors of abuse.

Khoshkou emphasized that the ISF allows students to remain in touch with their heritage as many students are second-generation immigrants.

Several ISF members agreed with Khoshkou, including the organization’s vice president of public relations Nima Talebi.

Talebi, a junior mechanical engineering major, highlighted that he is from an area with “not much diversity.” Being able to connect with other Iranian students on campus is what keeps Talebi engaged with the organization, he said.

Bashiri said the organization allows him to be part of a community on campus.

“It gives me a space to be involved with the Iranian-American diaspora on campus and off campus,” Bashiri said. “It’s introduced me to people like myself, who just want to get to know each other and create a sense of community on campus, and it’s given me a space to do all those things while having fun.”