Lighting Up the New Year

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    Photo by Prescott Watson.

    Despite the steady drizzle of rain and the cool winter winds, bonfires crackled and students eagerly lined up to jump over the orange flames, their faces glowing from the fire’s light. Leaping over the burning firewood, men and women sung out in Farsi a simple phrase:  zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man.

    Roughly translated to mean, “you take my sickness and I’ll take the good,” it was a call for a new year and new beginning.“As a kid, I always would be scared to jump over the fire,” said Payam Shaaf, second-year Cowell student. With a grin he added, “But after you do it, it feels awesome.”

    As part of Chaharshanbeh Soori, the Persian celebration of the spring equinox, the Iranian Student Network (ISN) hosted a traditional celebration this past Tuesday night, March 13.

    Chaharshanbeh Soori traces its roots to the Zorastrian religion, the dominant Persian religion prior to Islam.

    Determined to keep the festivities ablaze and the participants undaunted by the gray Santa Cruz weather, about 30 students gathered to commemorate the Persian new year — a holiday traditionally spent with family.

    Amin Ronaghi, an organizer of the night’s events, said with an undertone of humor that Chaharshanbeh Soori is never cancelled.

    “I grew up in Sweden,” Ronaghi said. “It would be raining, it would be snowing, but there would still be soccer fields filled with 40-50,000 people, all jumping over fire.”

    As students trickled in, escaping the rain for a brightly lit kitchen and warm company, hallways and rooms filled with laughter and happy chatter.

    Bardia Keyoumarsi, a third-year student originally from Iran, said that having only lived in the United States for a few years, American celebrations at the end of December still feel foreign to him.

    “In Iran, [Chaharshanbeh Soori] is everywhere. You really feel it in the air, everyone’s mood brightens up,” Keyoumarsi said. “With it comes happiness.”

    Typically a two-week long celebration, the new year festivities are centered on family and community. For example, in Iran, Keyoumarsi explained, people visit the surviving family of the deceased to pay their respects and show support.

    Yalda Yekta, a fourth-year and member of ISN, said she has always found ways to celebrate Chaharshanbeh Soori, even if it was only with local friends. The holiday, she said, has always been important to her and she looks forward to it every year.

    “I have very distinct memories of being a kid and being together with my family. Everyone is just eating, talking, enjoying each other’s company,” Yeleta said. “It was a fun time of the year where we could celebrate and be together … it’s a time of new beginnings.”

    Because Chaharshanbeh Soori typically falls near the end of the winter quarter, many Iranian students have to bypass the celebrations in order to prepare for exams. But the small celebration ISN put together was, for now, enough to quell longings for home.

    Second-year Shaaf said he was initially hesitant about coming to ISN’s celebration. Originally from Iran, Shaaf said he valued the time he spends with his family on Chaharshanben Soori and wasn’t really sure what to expect from the night’s celebrations.

    He conceded with a nod, however, that “it looked pretty good.”

    Yeleta said she has always wanted to bring her culture and Chaharshanbeh Soori to the UCSC community — without the typical politically drenched rhetoric often trailing behind the mere utterance of the word “Iran.”

    “What we’re doing here isn’t about politics or religion,” she said. “I really try to make [ISN] non-political … I want this to be a place to celebrate our culture.”

    As the night began to wind down, electronic-heavy Iranian beats blasted from speakers and men and women stood up, swaying and dancing to the music.

    But while the fire had died out, the smell of smoke still clung to clothes. A reminder that the new year had started.

    • Steph

      NowRUZ!