Thousands of people from across the Greater Toronto Area were jumping over bonfires to burn the negative vibes of old in order to start a fresh New Year in the ancient Persian tradition of Chaharshanbeh Soori on Tuesday March 15, 2011.
In Toronto, more than five thousand people gathered at Mel Lastman Square while during the same time in Richmond Hill, another few thousand held their own celebrations.
For the cultures that celebrate, Chaharshanbeh Soori is the official kickoff to Nowruz, the Iranian New Year according to the solar calendar. The secular celebration uses fire to burn the sickness and problems to in turn give warmth, and energy for the New Year.
In Richmond Hill, thousands gathered at the Richmond Green Sports Centre and Park to mingle, dance, eat and take part in the traditions.
Farvardin Cultural Centre Board Member, Mohammad Zohouri said it was important for them to have a bonfire to keep the traditions of old alive.
“When we told the fire department that we wanted to jump over the fire, they said ‘in Canada, we make a fire to cook food or keep warm,’ and I said no, we are Iranian and we use fire to jump over,” said Zohouri.
York Region Police Chief Eric Jolliffe jumped over the fire for the first time as Chief of Police and said the celebration felt that much sweeter
Among the jovial Iranians were Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow, Deputy Mayor Vito Spatafora, York Region Police Chief Eric Jolliffe, Councilors Godwin Chan and Greg Beros and Liberal candidate for Thornhill Karen Mock.
The Mayor didn’t wait to take part in the traditions as he got in line to jump over the fire minutes after he arrived.
“It is part of being a community and celebrating those things that are important to residents,” said Barrow.
“Certainly the Iranian community knows how to party,” said Deputy Mayor Vito Spatafora. “It’s an interesting way for the cultures of our community to exchange the diversity here and not only with the customs, but with the food and dancing and everything.”
At around 6p.m., with the auditorium three quarters full, there were lineups to get in as huge crowds had to find parking across the street because of a full lot.
Farvardin Cultural Centre Organizer Sayed Soltanpour was happy to see the event grow to such huge proportions.
“Almost 700 hours of volunteer work for the preparations in the last four months,” said Soltanpour. “It shows that Iranians respect their culture and Canadians understand that we have a rich culture and we can enrich multiculturalism in Canada.”
York Region Police Chief Eric Jolliffe jumped over the fire for the first time as Chief of Police and said the celebration felt that much sweeter.
“For us, we can’t do our job if we’re not connected to the community,” said Jolliffe.
Just a few kilometers away, at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, more than five thousand Iranian-Canadians and non Iranian-Canadians made their presence known with loud cheers that echoed down Yonge St.
It's a huge peaceful gathering and it has a wonderful feeling to it, said Wynne, Ontario Minister of Transportation
Amoo Nowruz was greeting and taking pictures with people of all ages. Not too far from his side was Haji Firuz, whose dance and song uplifted the huge crowd as well as many of the politicians in attendance.
Richmond Hill MPP Reza Moridi made an uplifting speech to an enthusiastic crowd, bellowing that “we have made Nowruz in Ontario and Canada official.”
“May every day be a new day (Nowruz) and may the new day be victorious (Piruz),” said Moridi.
MPP Kathleen Wynne and Toronto’s Ward 33 Councilor Shelley Carroll were both alongside Moridi and Mock, dancing and singing to classic Iranian tunes.
“It gets better every year. This is entirely citizen run,” said Carroll. “This is a party by the people for the people. I can’t go away for March Break because I would miss it.”
“It’s a huge peaceful gathering and it has a wonderful feeling to it,” said Wynne. “It’s a beautiful addition to the other spring celebrations because it has a lot of energy to it.”
It is part of being a community and celebrating those things that are important to residents," said Barrow, Mayor of Richmond Hill
Iranian Canadian Council member and Chaharshanbeh Soori organizer Mohammad Tajdolati said since it is illegal to have bonfires in or around Mel Lastman Square, they substituted it with fireworks, which is not a far cry from the traditional ways.
“In Iran, people used pieces of coloured aluminum to make firecrackers, so we always had fireworks, and now we are using fireworks to represent the traditional fire of Chaharshanbe Soori,” said Tajdolati.
The events show how there is great support for the Iranian-Canadian communities from many areas of Canadian society, including politics, business and from other neighboring cultures. It is a celebration that shows just how far multiculturalism has and continues to grow.
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