Nowruz – the Persian New Year – marks the beginning of spring and means “new day” in Farsi. Nowruz is celebrated by not only Iranians, but also by many other diverse communities in Central and Western Asia including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India, and Azerbaijan. It is also a holy day for some faith groups including Zoroastrians and Baháʼís.
To celebrate Nowruz, we usually set up a table called Haft-seen, and have family and friends over to celebrate the beginning of a new year. As a first-generation immigrant, I remember my earlier years here in Winnipeg, when my family (my husband and our two kids) and I would feel much lonelier on Nowruz. We were the only ones gathering around our Haft-seen table, which was incomplete as we were unable to locally find the special food items and spices that we needed for it. The Haft-seen arrangement consists of seven symbolic items that start with letter “seen” in Farsi. These items are:
- Sabzeh – wheat, lentil, or a type of grain is grown to symbolize rebirth and growth
- Samanu – a sweet pudding made of wheat to symbolize strength
- Senjed – oleaster to symbolize love
- Sumac – to symbolize sunrise
- Serkeh – vinegar to symbolize patience
- Seeb – apple to symbolize beauty
- Seer – garlic to symbolize health and medicine
Other items are placed on the Haft-seen table such as: goldfish, a mirror, painted eggs, candle, Sonbol (Hyacinth), coins, and a clock.
After years of watching big Nowruz celebrations in the US, Europe, and other larger Canadian cities, we felt as though we needed to come together and organize ourselves as a community to be able to support each other, in an effort to maintain and promote our culture. With that vision in mind, a group of us came together and established the Iranian Community of Manitoba (ICM) in March of 2008 as a non-profit cultural association. Today, after 14 years of hard work, the ICM has been successful in bringing together members of our community and initiating a number of important community activities such as sports, art and music, Persian language classes, and cultural festivities. Over the past few years, we no longer feel lonely during the new year, as there have been big celebrations organized by the ICM Board and a group of volunteers, with 300-500 people of all different cultures in attendance. We’re always delighted & thrilled to welcome non-Iranians to join us for these celebrations, as we see these events as opportunities to share & learn from each other.
Some members of our community have established businesses here locally that have been most helpful in making us feel even more at home in Winnipeg. One of these long-lasting and successful businesses is the Tehran Market and Café owned by Mr. Mehdi Naghibzadeh and Ms. Maryam Nadmeh. This market, located at 1875 Pembina Hwy in Winnipeg, is the go-to place for specialty spices and foods. They offer fresh goods from all over the world, but especially from Iran and other middle eastern countries. Every year in preparation for the celebration of Nowruz, we have gone to this market for special spices, food items and treats that we need for setting our Half-Seen Table. I love going to Tehran Market all year-round, but especially close to Nowruz. The arrival of all the new special items for this occasion gives the true feeling that spring is on its way. I love the atmosphere of people shopping for Nowruz, and seeing the beautiful items on display is energizing.
Just last night, when I went Nowruz shopping at Tehran Market, I noticed that they had a type of sweet that I haven’t seen for a long time, but enjoyed during Nowruz growing up. Though these things may seem small and insignificant, having access to cultural foods and items that give you comfort is so important. We don’t take this for granted. The owners of Tehran Market have worked hard to establish and maintain their business here. We, as the members of the Iranian Community of Manitoba, are grateful to them for their incredibly important service to us. Tehran Café (part of the Market) is a great choice for trying top-notch Persian cuisine – it’s absolutely delicious and catered/served with care.
Next Stop café on 333 Pembina Hwy is another Iranian-owned business that was established two years ago and has added taste and joy to our community. It has become another place where people from various cultures with different tastes can dine and celebrate special events. This family-oriented café is also used by students as a cozy place to sit and study with a cup of tea or coffee. The owners, Mr. Payam Jamali and Ms. Mona Naghibzadeh, immigrated to Canada in 2017 with 19 years of work experience in food industry. Their crew has been working hard to run this business to their customer’s satisfaction in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. These days, both of these local Iranian businesses are doing their best for not only members of the Iranian Community, but all residents of Manitoba to have a wonderful experience with their cuisines.
I have lived in Winnipeg for almost 26 years now – Winnipeg is my home and I strongly believe that the existence of the ICM, Tehran Market and Café, and more recently Next Stop, have been important to me personally for feeling more connected to our community & culture. As a founding member of the Iranian Community of Manitoba, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the government of Manitoba for their full support of the Iranian Community of Manitoba and local Iranian businesses.
Last, but not the least I would like to take this opportunity as the Director of Diversity for the Whyte Ridge Community Centre (WRCC) to wish all those who celebrate this occasion a very Happy Nowruz. I am not a writer, but felt compelled to write this short letter in hopes of encouraging others to write/share your experiences & cultural festivities with us through the WRCC newsletter as well.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in writing an article, or serving on our Diversity Committee.
Director of Diversity, WRCC