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How to celebrate Nowruz on the North Shore

There are several ways to celebrate the Persian New Year in North Van and West Vancouver this year
Nowruz is celebrated in West Vancouver with the annual Fire Festival at Ambleside Park.

For the North Shore's burgeoning Persian population, the arrival of spring too marks the arrival of Nowruz: the Persian New Year.

While the event falls on the spring equinox of March 20 or 21, festivities are typically spread across 13 days.

Things will kick off locally on March 13 with West Vancouver’s annual Chaharshanbeh Suri – Ambleside’s Fire Festival with live music performances, food and fire jumping, and set the pace for the plethora of events to come over the coming weeks. 

Never ones to turn down an opportunity for inclusive celebration, those at The Polygon Gallery have put together an event for March 16 that combines an intriguing mix of live performance, live readings, and edible food art. The latter, created by Iranian artist and writer Sahba Sad, is a food-focused installation that pays homage to ‘Sofreh,’ a seasonal feast or spread.

At the Museum of North Vancouver from March 15, a traditional haft-seen ceremonial table will be on display. It will serve as a welcome for its Roshana School series of events planned for March 19, a Persian immersion educational program for children that comprises Roshana classes and workshops that teach language and culture through art and music. 

That same evening, the City of North Vancouver will be hosting a public performance of classical Persian dance at the City Hall, orchestrated by members of the AMED Dance Academy. 

A time for learning

Libraries in each of the three North Shore municipalities have educational and celebratory opportunities aplenty. At the North Vancouver City Library, an all-ages friendly event will be hosted on March 18, where guests can play backgammon and explore the library’s own display haft-seen table, win prizes, and tuck into some traditional Persian snacks.

On the same day over at the West Vancouver Memorial Library, a Farsi For Kids celebration – a specially curated storytime with songs delivered primarily in Farsi – will be presented, alongside the library’s annual musical performances on March 22 and 23.

“At the library, we celebrate diversity to reflect and respect our community,” said the West Vancouver Memorial Library’s director of services, Stephanie Hall. “This Norooz, while we mark the coming of spring with hope and renewal, we are also thinking of those community members coping with the social and political situation in Iran.”

The current political climate in Iran certainly brings a small solemn cloud over the annual celebrations, but it also means the fortnight’s worth of festivities can be an opportunity for education on what is happening further afield. At the North Vancouver district, city and West Vancouver libraries, for example, the librarians have compiled a selection of resources that shed light on the protests currently occurring in Iran and around the world.

Cultural sharing

As with other cultural events like Lunar New Year, Nowruz provides an opportunity not just for immigrants and their families to experience a slice of the motherland in their new home country, but for their new neighbours to broaden their cultural knowledge.

It’s why all events and festivities are open to all, no matter what background, says City of North Vancouver Coun. Shervin Shahriari.

“The way I look at it, Nowruz is about reconnecting with nature after winter, and reconnecting with the people we know, even if they’re not from a Persian background,” said Shahriari, who last year became the first Iranian-born Canadian in the province to be elected to council.

“Nowruz is celebrated by people of Iranian background, but also other ethnicities, and most of the events are very culturally open and welcoming. There will be a lot of music and dance and food, and I think anyone would enjoy, and can benefit from, being at those events.”

Iranian culture already here in North Van

For those who see Nowruz as an invitation to champion and applaud Iranian music, art and cuisine outside of the special Nowruz events, opportunities are rife there, too.

At the West Vancouver Art Museum, for example, the exhibition Under the Shade of the Lotus Tree highlights the work of two local artists who were born and raised in Iran.

Pari Azarm Motamedi and Rozita Moinishirazi present paintings that illustrate both classic and modern Persian poetry and history, much of which pays homage to the lotus tree – a representation of refuge and a metaphor for safety and recovery in Persian culture.

With Lonsdale Avenue’s thriving strip of Persian restaurants, bakeries and stores, there is also much in the way of edible celebration. According to Poyan Danesh, former BC Chef of the Year, for those wanting to dip their toe into Iranian culture, food is the easiest and most rewarding route.

“It is a very approachable cuisine, because a lot of people are already very accustomed to rice dishes, and curries, soups and stews,” said Danesh.

On March 6, Danesh hosted an evening at North Vancouver’s Gilaneh Grill House where local foodies were invited to learn about Persian culture while sampling a Danesh-cooked Persian meal. For most in attendance it was their first foray into Iranian fare, and all, said Danesh, left in high spirits – the chef included.

"It brings me great pleasure to share the sweets with my non-Iranian friends and chefs and see their eyes light up," he said. “I’ll say this about the Iranian community: we love to share our food and we love even more to share our experiences and culture,” he said.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.