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Nowruz Day at the White House


By David Rahni, reporting from the White House, Washington DC

The First Lady Michelle Obama speaking at the Nowruz event in the White House

The Nowruz reception at the White House held on March 11, 2015 by all accounts was a great success. Invited dignitaries, professors and scholars, exchange students, entrepreneurs, government officials and artists, i.e., four generations of Americans with heritage mainly from Iran, as well as those from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Azarbaijan, Iraq's Kurdistan and the Parsis of India among a number of other nationalities were invited to the extravagant reception. The First Lady Michelle Obama addressing the audience with her Nowruz message was warmly received; her speech, congratulating the nearly 300 million people including at least a million Americans celebrating Nowruz has already received close to 200,00 hits on YouTube alone in less than two days.

The first lady recognized Nowruz as the first of the New Year signifying re-birth, rejuvenation and revival of body and mind. She further explained the symbolic meaning behind the haft-seen table, and its seven plant based items begging with the letter S in Persian.  She further cited the celebration of the first day of spring referred to as the Common New Year in the west, as observed in Europe and the U.S. through the mid-19th century. Her speech was preceded with a brilliantly young Persian American, Ashely Azmoudeh a biology/pre-med student at the University of Maryland, who shared her inspirational connections with her Persian culture. Silk Road Dancing Ensemble performance followed by solo Santur (hammered dulcimer) played by Payam Yousefi brought much exhilaration. The guests were then guided to a grand dining hall to indulge in lavish buffet style lunch of Persian appetizers, foods, deserts and tea prepared by Chef Farivar that lasted two more hours.

The White House staffers as well as a number of interagency officials present did a magnificent job of making the event memorable. Although the day was rightly apolitical in approach, it nonetheless, provided a reassuring platform on which cultural commonalities, Nowruz and the warming spring observed by many nations including the U.S., were reaffirmed. Cultural commonalities as Nowruz as cherished by diverse peoples from northwest China to central, south and west Asia including the Caucuses and the Balkans, and irrespective of their ethnicities, religions or original nationality, has for millennia and will inextricably continue to be commemorated.  As an American of Persian heritage, it was my personal honor to have attended this nostalgic event and could only look forward to its further expansion in the years to follow.

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