On Wednesday, March 22, the Afghan Student Union (ASU) at the University of Utah hosted its second annual Nowruz celebration.
Nowruz recognizes the Persian New Year every March on the vernal equinox. Nowruz has been observed for nearly 3,000 years and is an official holiday in 13 countries, including Afghanistan.
The festivities began at 6 p.m. with music, food and dancing. Approximately 250 people attended the event and most, if not all, stayed the entirety of the evening. Adults sat around tables and ate traditional foods like Haft Mewa, meaning “seven fruits,” while the children played in the back, giggling and searching for the Afghan flag hidden on the ceiling of the Union Ballroom.
One hour into the night, the celebration was in full swing. Hamza Yaqoobi, founder of ASU, hosted the event and presented numerous acts throughout the evening. There were comedians, poets and musicians. Children performed a style of dance called Attan, practiced most often during festivities, while the rest of the audience clapped along with the beat. Both men and women were draped from head to toe in colorful traditional garments. Some had jingling bangles along the fringe while others had intricate embroidered designs.
The atmosphere was lively and bright throughout the evening. People of different ethnicities, backgrounds and religions came together to celebrate one culture. For Afghans, though, Nowruz means reconnecting with their roots.
“As you grow older here, you miss parts of your culture and tradition, and you need to be reminded of how you celebrated,” said Yaqoobi. “I felt like I was missing that, so that’s why I created this group. What it means to me is community.”
There is a large population of Afghan refugees in Utah, many of which live in Salt Lake City. Saleha Rajaball is a refugee who endured child labor and lived in three different countries before arriving in the United States. For Rajaball, now an active member of ASU, the Nowruz celebration is a way for families that have grown distant over the years to come together.
“I think Nowruz means a new happiness,” said Rajaball, “it’s supposed to be colorful, everybody is supposed to forgive each other and open the new years with happiness.”
With recent political turmoil concerning refugees, the event was not only a way for some members of the Afghan and Muslim community to enjoy time with friends, but also to help mend skewed perceptions of these groups. According to Rajaball, the goal of ASU in organizing the Nowruz celebration is to show that they are a community trying to stay connected to their culture, not destroy others.
“We like to enjoy wearing these beautiful clothes and we like to just keep it to ourselves,” she said.
The music and dancing continued until 10:30 p.m., when ASU gave closing remarks. Parents rounded up their exhausted children and said goodbye to their friends — old and new. For these families, even if the road ahead seems rocky, Nowruz will always be a time for a fresh start.