Gold coins and goldfish, fire jumping, dancing clowns, the banging of bowls and spoons and many other joyful sights and sounds will fill the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries
during an early celebration of “Nowruz! A Persian New Year Celebration,” Saturday, March 7, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The celebration of “Nowruz,” or “new day,” dates back to 3,000 B.C.E., and marks the first day of spring or the vernal equinox—March 20. It is rooted in Zoroastrianism, the religion of pre-Islamic Iran, and the celebration is also observed by communities in Afghanistan, Bahrain, parts of Lebanon and Syria, Kurdish communities in Iraq and Turkey and many countries in Central Asia.
“We are delighted to host this festival of spring marking the Iranian New Year and hope to make this a signature event for our visitors every year,” said Claire Orologas, head of Education and Public Programs at the Freer and Sackler galleries.
“Wild Fire Eve and Stories from the “‘Book of Kings’” in the Sackler Gallery
The celebration begins in the Sackler Gallery at 10:30 a.m. with a song and dance performance and workshop by Aatash, an Iranian culture group from George Washington University. Dancers will also perform the ancient fire-jumping tradition of “Wild Fire Eve” (“chahar-shamba suri”). Children in the audience will be invited to participate in a safe version of the ritual. At 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., storyteller Xanthe Gresham will perform excerpts from the Iranian epic poem “Shahnama” (“Book of Kings”). Beginning at 1:30 p.m., the animated film “Babak and Friends: A First Norooz” (2005, video, 30 min) will be screened in the new Black Box theater.
Hands-on art activities in the ImaginAsia classroom begin at 2 p.m. Children and their adult companions will explore goldfish, hyacinths, and other symbols associated with the Persian New Year, and create fun designs on greeting cards and T-shirts using stencil art and hand-carved wooden printing blocks.
A Nowruz table (“haft sinn”) will display traditional items symbolizing fertility and renewal throughout the day in the Sackler pavilion with discussions of its meaning and significance.
“Author Najmieh Batmanglij and Iranian Vocalist Mamak Khadem” in the Freer Gallery
Celebrated chef and authority on Nowruz traditions and food, Najmieh Batmanglij will discuss the meaning of the Nowruz “haft sinn” table and sign copies of her book “Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year” starting at 11 a.m. Batmanglij’s five cookbooks will also be available. Nowruz delicacies such as “ash-e reshteh,” a noodle and bean soup, and other traditional recipes from Batmanglij’s cookbooks will be sold from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To complement Gresham’s storytelling based on the “Shahnama” in the Sackler,
pre-performance tours in Gallery 4, Arts of the Islamic World, will highlight related works on view. Tours begin at 11:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.
Iranian-born vocalist Mamak Khadem, a founding member of world music group “Axiom of Choice,” and her ensemble will perform original works from her most recent recording in the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Up to four tickets can be reserved in advanced through Ticketmaster beginning Monday, Feb. 23. Two free tickets per person are distributed at the auditorium beginning one hour before show time on a first-come, first-served basis.
Coming Soon: Year of Iran Exhibitions
The Year of Iran will continue with two exhibitions, “The Tsars and the East: Gifts from Turkey and Iran in The Moscow Kremlin,” May 9-Sept. 13, and “Falnama: The Book of Omens,” Oct. 24, 2009, to Jan. 24, 2010.