Persian Community Celebrates New Year


Cambridge residents and members of the Harvard community celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year, with traditional food, symbolic decorations, and a discussion of Persian culture last night in the CGIS-South concourse.

A customary Haft-Seen table—which features traditional symbolic elements of the Nowruz celebration—formed the centerpiece in the concourse. It included vinegar, which represents patience in the Persian heritage, as well as garlic, signifying good health. In the Persian language, all of the items on the table begin with the equivalent of the English “s” sound.

Jaclyn A. Michael, a 2005 Extension School graduate who currently works at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) Outreach Center, explained the personalized nature of the table.

“It’s kind of like a Christmas tree,” she said. “It has common elements, but every family does things that are important for them.”

Three members of the Persian community spoke about the diverse elements of Persian culture from their experiences in the Baha’i faith and living in Iran and Kyrgyzstan. Two graduate students read portions of the Shahnameh, an epic Iranian poem, in Persian.

The event last night, which drew a crowd of nearly 100, was co-sponsored by CMES, along with the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Harvard Persian Society, and the Harvard Iranian Student Organization (HISO). [SEE CORRECTION]

Paul D. Beran, the director of the Outreach Center at CMES, emphasized the multitude of populations that share in the Nowruz holiday.

“Even though Iran is what comes to mind when we say Persia, it’s much bigger than that,” he said. “It pertains to a large cultural grouping that stretches around the world.”

Pouya P. Alimagham, a first-year masters student at CMES and the president of HISO, described the celebration as akin to Mother’s Day.

“I grew up abroad, and for me it was an event that I always celebrated with my mother,” Alimagham said. “We set up the table together, we decorated the eggs together. It was a bonding experience.”

—Staff writer Laura C. McKiernan can be reached at


The March 19 story, "Persian Community Celebrates New Year," misstated the name of one of the co-sponsors. It is the Harvard Iranian Student Association (HISA), not Harvard Iranian Student Organization (HISO).