By Niki Nassiri
At 11:49 p.m., Roya Montazeri and seven of her family members, ranging from her 21-year-old daughter to her elderly father, gathered around their dining room table to ring in the Persian new year. Their haft-seen, a set of seven items representing different hopes for the new year, decorates the table like always, but this year there is a new addition — their phones to virtually celebrate with the rest of their family that stayed home due to the coronavirus quarantine.
The Long Island Iranian community found alternate ways to connect to each other this Persian new year through the internet when local events celebrating the holiday got canceled. Persian new year or Norooz, which means new day, is tied with the vernal equinox. Celebrated in Iran and the Persian diaspora for more than 3,000 years, Norooz honors the coming of spring and the rebirth of nature.
“Norooz is a time to celebrate the Persian new year and spend time with family,” Montazeri, a resident of Jericho and director of quality assurance at Cox Automotive, said. “[But] this year we had a private celebration with only eight of our family.” Montazeri used social media apps imo and WhatsApp to gather with the rest of her loved ones.
The Iranian American Society of New York (IASNY) canceled its annual Norooz Gala on March 8 after older Iranians began calling to say they would no longer attend. The gala was scheduled for March 14 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. It is the only large-scale Norooz event held on Long Island.
“There were mixed feelings,” Alireza Hedayati, President of IASNY, said. “Some people feel like Norooz was destroyed, but it is what it is. I think people would much rather be healthy and safe.”
IASNY also canceled their Ferdowsi Persian language school and all other events through the month of April. Persian language classes will continue online.
The final holiday that closes the thirteen-day new year, called Sizdah Bedar or Nature’s Day, sees hundreds of Iranians gathering at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County. Hedayati, who helps plan the event, confirmed that no such gathering would be happening this year.
“There’s no way to do anything Iranian without gathering,” Hedayati said. “They’re just going to have to improvise. Personally, I’m not going anywhere.”
This year’s Norooz is also jeopardized by the outbreak in Iran. There, coronavirus has so far killed more than 2,898 people and infected 44,605 others, according to data collected by John Hopkins University.
“I think a big part of how Norooz was different was that we were mourning for all of the people who have died in Iran, and more so mourning for their Norooz,” Arianna Parkhideh, an Iranian resident from Old Field said. “It definitely was more somber than it usually is.”