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Parade Brings Persian New Year Celebration to New York

Floats, music, dance commemorate ancient culture for audience of thousands

New York -- A vibrant and spirited crowd celebrated Nowrouz, the Persian New Year, at the fourth annual Persian Parade in New York City as men and women in colorful clothing danced to traditional music and cheerfully promenaded down Madison Avenue.

On March 25, Persians and non-Persians, New Yorkers and tourists, lined 15 city blocks to watch California ballet groups perform time-honored Persian dances, popular local Iranian singer Jamshid Alimorad give a surprise performance from a float, and other participants carry flags and symbols of the ancient Persian empire. 

The parade’s organizers estimate that at least 25,000 people attended the parade in 2007, a few thousand more spectators than in 2006.  Organizers designed the parade to emphasize the artistry and influence of Persian culture and language, said Iradj Javid, president of the parade’s board of directors.

“[We] want to introduce the full picture of Persian art, culture, history and civility to the American people,” Javid said in a telephone interview with USINFO.  The Persian population in the United States is “very proud to be American, and also very proud of our heritage” he added.


The Persian heritage of which Javid speaks dates back 5,000 years to the pre-Islamic traditions of Zoroastrianism.  The parade commemorated Zoroastrian teachings with banners conveying the motto, “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” 

Some floats depicted scenes from ancient dynasties, including life in Ctesiphon, the capital city during the Sassanian Empire, which reigned in Persia from 226 to 651.  Dating back even further, the parade featured a float dedicated to Cyrus the Great, leader of the Persian Empire 2,500 years ago, who developed what is now recognized as the first charter of human rights.  

The 2007 parade also featured a float extolling Ferdowsi, the father of modern Persian language, known for his book Shahnameh (The Epic of Kings).

Along with a bit of history, the 2007 parade offered tastes of culture from several of the diverse populations of Persian peoples now living in the United States.  They come from present-day Iran, but also from many other ethnic backgrounds and nations that made up the ancient Persian Empire, which extended from Albania through much of Central Asia and parts of India and Pakistan. 

The symbols of Nowrouz are also inherent to Persian culture. One parade float displayed the lavish spread of food customarily eaten for the New Year, while participants carried signs depicting the elements of the Haft Seen, a traditional centerpiece.

The Haft Seen contains at least seven items beginning with the letter "S" in the Persian alphabet, including Sabzeh (wheat, barley or lentil sprouts, symbolizing rebirth), Samanu (sweet pudding or custard -- affluence), Senjed (fruit of the oleaster or lotus tree -- love), Seer (garlic -- health and medicine), Seeb (apples -- beauty and health), Somaq (sumac berries -- sunrise), Serkeh (vinegar -- age and patience), Sonbol (hyacinth -- spring) and Sekkeh (coins -- prosperity and wealth). 


Dancers displayed the variety of expressions found in Persian culture, performing different traditional dances representing the major ethnic groups of Iran -- the Gilaki, from the province Gilan near the Caspian Sea; the Ghashghaie, nomads in the south of Iran; and the Kurds. One man carried a sign listing an oft-forgotten ethnic group, “the Jewish Community of Iran.”

One group performed a Tajik dance as well -- the women dressed in bright, multicolored dresses, with their hair bouncing in time to the beat. In 2008, Javid hopes to add an Afghan group to broaden the parade’s perspective.

Included every year in the parade’s celebration of Persian culture is a tribute to the Persian poet and mystic Rumi.  This year marked his 800th birthday.  Born in present-day Afghanistan, Rumi’s works explore human spirituality and humanity’s connection to God. (See related article.) 

Javid cited the poet’s indispensable role in Persian literature and life. “Trying to take Rumi out of Persian culture is like trying to take Shakespeare out of English culture and literature,” he said.  Like Shakespeare, Rumi has attained universal appeal. In recognition of his contributions and continued academic and popular appeal, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 2007 “International Rumi Year.”

For Firouz Firooznia, the parade has become a regular part of his Nowrouz celebration.  He has attended each of the four years of the event.

“It brings us together once a year.  Back home we always got together,” said Firooznia, who lives in New York and has been in the United States for 21 years.  “This is a chance to see friends and those who share the same culture and background.” 

Keeping with Nowrouz tradition, Firooznia will end the 13-day celebration of the New Year with a picnic on the last day. Nowrouz always begins on the spring equinox—this year, March 20. (See related article.)

Javid and the parade’s other organizers might have a picnic too, but then preparation for the 2008 festivities must begin.  Because the New York parade has proven so successful, groups in Chicago and Los Angeles have asked Javid and his colleagues to consult on their own efforts to organize similar events.  Javid is happy to oblige.

“We will have one week of rest, then start again,” he said.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


... Payvand News - 3/30/07 ... --

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