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We haven’t done too badly
I would like to know just what is wrong with young people having fun?

April 9, 2007

In a world that aims more and more satirical comments at Persians, most of us are learning how to turn a deaf ear. However, when negative comments come from our own, with the exception of light-hearted anecdotes, they are much harder to bear. The mere survival of our culture, despite multiple foreign influences, is something we can all be proud of. It is one thing to debate whether or not we should be upset over an offensive fantasy film production, but quite another to be called “cultureless” or people of “Chelo-kabab culture” by one of our own.

In order to be fair, let us follow suit and begin by defining the term, ‘culture’. True as it may be that most people aspire for cultural enrichment and wish to see it as "the training, development, and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners", there is also a more general definition for the word and that is, “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a group.” Keeping that in mind, the word “cultureless” becomes inconsequential, for even the nomads and people too poor to know the meaning of “chelo-kabab”, have their own culture. With culture being passed down through tradition, Norooz has to be the pinnacle of Persian cultural events.

The beauty of Norooz, indeed the secret to its survival, is in the profound harmony it creates between man and nature. With all due respect, it makes more sense than any historical event and/or religious holiday. Regardless of what man has done to the Earth, nature follows a more precise calendar and it sure doesn’t wait for a clock in Times Square to announce the New Year. By celebrating the exact moment of vernal equinox, we become one with nature, welcome the arrival of spring, and mark the beginning of another year.

Gala events, concerts and banquets are no threat to Norooz. They are never held on the exact moment of tahveel, and by the time they come around, children have soiled their new clothes, had their fill of cookies, and enjoyed their aidee. With today’s distances being what they are, many believe such gatherings provide a convenient way to see everyone.

True Norooz celebration begins much earlier with house cleaning, baking, and preparing the haft seen. Norooz originated with Zoroastrians, yet today it belongs to Iranians across the board as well as other nations with a connection to our culture. It doesn’t matter how we celebrate it, the important part is that on this day, Iranians of all religions and social backgrounds become one.

Let us also examine how different generations of Iranians prepared for sizdeh-beh-dar: Our grandparents’ servants prepared a feast for an extended family picnic and often cooked on the spot. Our parents took pots of ready-made food to be warmed up later, and samovars were brought to make tea. My generation took cold food, sandwiches, and bottled drinks, and today our children are lucky enough to enjoy catered chelo-kabab. But we all took our sorrows out of the house, gave our sabzeh to a stream, and made wishes while tying blades of grass together. Change is inevitable, but what has not changed is the deep respect for our cultural heritage. As for teaching our own, considering how hard it has been to maintain tradition while living away from home, so far we haven’t done too badly.

I am not a fan of popular concerts and my dancing years are numbered, but I would like to know just what is wrong with young people having fun? You want culture in its sophisticated definition? Go and listen to Kalhor play his music, read a good book of Golshiri or Sirjani and listen to a poem by Shamloo or Akhavan. Centuries later, the world has discovered Molana -- whom they know as Rumi -- and to this day, even the best translators fail to find the right words for an accurate interpretation of Hafez.

Time is bound to leave its mark on any given culture. No doubt, the Zoroastrians did not serve baklava twenty-five centuries ago, and their aidee must have been different, too. Yet no one seems to ridicule the changes made by generations that followed. Maybe if we stop criticizing our young, they will be encouraged to pass down the torch and keep our beautiful traditions alive. Comment

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani gave up dentistry to be a full-time writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani



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