PHOTOS: Iranian New Year celebration in Los Angeles brings out Persian community, political hopefuls

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Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel were just two of the many L.A. dignitaries who joined thousands of Iranians in Westwood's "Persian Square" Sunday to celebrate Nowruz — the Persian New Year.

Westwood Blvd. between Wilkins and Ohio was closed off from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to allow for the live music and dancing, traditional foods, and holiday settings that marked the festivities.

Iranian music filled the streets and shops flung their doors open to eager Iranians looking for Persian pastries, special platters, and other traditional treats. Merchants managed huge crowds that gathered in stores to browse by Persian books, CDs, and other merchandise.

Later in the afternoon, California Congressman Tony Cardenas, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, Los Angeles City Attorney candidate Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Controller candidates Dennis Zine and Ron Galperin, and the two mayoral candidates spoke to the Iranian community about its importance to the American identity.

The dignitaries referred to the values that Iranians and Americans share and spoke of the importance of intercultural solidarity.

Bijan Khalili is the owner of Ketab Books — one of the first Persian bookstores to open on Persian Square. He's helped organize the Westwood Nowruz celebration since its inception ten years ago.

"Any cultural event, especially New Year, especially Nowruz, is the most important thing for the Iranian community," Khalili said. "Either those who came from Iran, and still are alive, or their children born here. They still love this event. The event is the chain and everybody wants to be part of the chain."

The ancient holiday

Nowruz (pronounced NO-ruse) officially took place last Wednesday. It marks the beginning of the Persian New Year and recognizes the spring equinox.

Various descendants of the Persian empire — including modern day Iran, parts of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Turkey, among other countries — have celebrated Nowruz for thousands of years. The holiday traces its origins back to Zoroastrian traditions.

Nowruz tradition includes setting a table called a "haft-sin" (pronounced half-seen). "Haft" means "seven" and "sin" is a transliteration of the letter "s"— a reference to the seven items that cover the table, each beginning with the letter "s." These items symbolize various elements of spring and rebirth. 

The holiday is usually a private affair, as families typically gather at the eldest family member's house and give gifts to children. "Nowruz" translates to "new day," a reference to the rebirth of spring. Traditionally, many Iranians try to put on new clothes, set new goals, and even give new money as gifts.

On the evening before the last Wednesday of the year, Iranians attempt to rid themselves of the "bad essence" of the previous year and bring in new health by jumping over fires — a festival called "Chaharshanbe Suri" (Wednesday feast).

Thirteen days after Nowruz, Iranians spend a day outdoors with their families during a ceremony called "Sizdah Be-dar" (ridding the thirteenth). The ceremony invokes similar notions of rebirth and revival, as many Iranians hope to enjoy a year of good luck and health.

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