One family's COVID-friendly way to celebrate Nowruz

·4 min read
Calgarian Shamim Alavi made these sweet treats, which are a classic part of Nowruz, to gift to friends and family who are celebrating the occasion.  (Mehran Imamverdi - image credit)
Calgarian Shamim Alavi made these sweet treats, which are a classic part of Nowruz, to gift to friends and family who are celebrating the occasion. (Mehran Imamverdi - image credit)

With its origins dating back over 3,000 years ago, Nowruz, meaning "new day" in Farsi, is a festival celebrated on the first day of spring in the Iranian calendar.

"There's no right way to celebrate Nowruz," said Calgarian Shamim Alavi. Whether it be with fire-jumping, dinner parties or gift giving, each family has its own special traditions to mark the holiday. This year, many have had to alter them because of COVID-19.

The festival falls on Saturday this year and will be observed across the world, particularly in the Middle East, Central Asia and among those in the Baha'i faith.

  • How are you celebrating Nowruz this year? Email your photos to calgaryphotos@cbc.ca.

These photos depict how Alavi and her family, who are Baha'i, have adapted their celebrations in the wake of the ongoing pandemic while still honouring the celebratory and community spirit of the holiday.

For Baha'is like Alavi, Nowruz symbolizes the renewal of the world. Part of the Baha'i Nowruz tradition is a 19-day fast from food and drink that lasts from sunrise to sunset.

"Since we don't all live in one household, we've had to find creative and safe ways to get the family together," Alavi said.

Alavi and her family eat for the first time since sunrise, with two of her children, Sama and Neda, joining via Zoom.
Alavi and her family eat for the first time since sunrise, with two of her children, Sama and Neda, joining via Zoom.(Mehran Imamverdi)

During this time, Baha'is also focus on daily prayers and reflections.

During the fast, Alavi and her husband Mehran Imamverdi begin the day with dawn prayers and a small breakfast before sunrise.
During the fast, Alavi and her husband Mehran Imamverdi begin the day with dawn prayers and a small breakfast before sunrise.(Mehran Imamverdi)

Children are at the heart of Nowruz celebrations every year, Alavi said. "Baha'i families come together to prepare small gift bags to bring joy to the hearts of our young ones."

This year, Alavi volunteered to prepare and deliver gift bags safely to families with young children in their community.
This year, Alavi volunteered to prepare and deliver gift bags safely to families with young children in their community.(Mehran Imamverdi)

Whether with flowers, lights, or fruits and sweets, one can see diverse beautiful cultural expressions through Nowruz decorations. As Persians, Alavi's family sets up a "haft-seen" table during Nowruz, with seven items that symbolize health, wealth, beauty, wisdom, patience, love, light and a new life.

Each item on the haft-seen table is a symbol of spring and renewal and begins with the letter S in Farsi. 'Haft' means seven in Farsi, and 'seen' is the equivalent of the English letter S.
Each item on the haft-seen table is a symbol of spring and renewal and begins with the letter S in Farsi. 'Haft' means seven in Farsi, and 'seen' is the equivalent of the English letter S. (Mehran Imamverdi)

Some families also participate in a burst of spring cleaning in preparation for the holiday to usher in a sense of freshness and renewal to the home.

Monir Imamverdi, Alavi's son, wipes down a window as part of their family's annual preparation for Nowruz.
Monir Imamverdi, Alavi's son, wipes down a window as part of their family's annual preparation for Nowruz. (Mehran Imamverdi)

And you'd be remiss not to take note of the special sweets that help mark the holiday. Often times, the delicious snacks are shared between friends and neighbours with a cup of tea.

Cookies with slivered almonds, crushed pistachios, biscuits and baklava are an important and delicious part of Nowruz.
Cookies with slivered almonds, crushed pistachios, biscuits and baklava are an important and delicious part of Nowruz. (Mehran Imamverdi)

This year, Alavi made traditional Nowruz sweets and packaged them as gifts.

Alavi's children make toffee chocolate chip cookies together over Zoom, chatting as if they were in the same kitchen, as they normally would have been but for the pandemic.
Alavi's children make toffee chocolate chip cookies together over Zoom, chatting as if they were in the same kitchen, as they normally would have been but for the pandemic. (Mehran Imamverdi)

As Baha'is, Alavi and her family are encouraged during Nowruz to think of acts of service that benefit their community at large. It's central to the spirit of the festival. This year, she undertook some volunteer yardwork.

Alavi and her friends Maureen and David Burhoe clean and prune at the Parkdale community garden. 'I’ll admit, they did most of the work as I was a beginner,' Alavi says.
Alavi and her friends Maureen and David Burhoe clean and prune at the Parkdale community garden. 'I’ll admit, they did most of the work as I was a beginner,' Alavi says.(Mehran Imamverdi)
'It was still somewhat cold, but we had lots of fun nonetheless,' Alavi said.
'It was still somewhat cold, but we had lots of fun nonetheless,' Alavi said.(Mehran Imamverdi)

Visiting elders is also a common tradition. "I'm sure all of us cannot wait for the day we can leave the house and, once again, hug the ones we hold near and dear to our hearts," she said. This year, Zoom will have to suffice.

Alavi's father-in-law, Vajihullah Imamverdi, plays a song on the violin for his grandchildren.
Alavi's father-in-law, Vajihullah Imamverdi, plays a song on the violin for his grandchildren.(Mehran Imamverdi)

Every year, Alavi and her loved ones take a family photo. As they live in different households, and because of pandemic restrictions, this year's looks a bit different.

"No doubt, these pictures will mark an unforgettable time in our life," Alavi said.

From left to right: Shamim Alavi, Mehran Imamverdi, Monir Imamverdi, Amin Imamverdi, Neda Imamverdi, and Sama Imamverdi pose for an outdoor family photo with their masks on.
From left to right: Shamim Alavi, Mehran Imamverdi, Monir Imamverdi, Amin Imamverdi, Neda Imamverdi, and Sama Imamverdi pose for an outdoor family photo with their masks on.(Mehran Imamverdi)
  • To all those celebrating, Nowruz Mubarak! Send us photos of how you're marking the new year. Email calgaryphotos@cbc.ca.