Sherene Melania
Sherene Melania, executive and artistic director of Presidio Dance Theatre, in Assyrian costume

Beginning at 2:24 p.m. Pacific Time on March 20, a big holiday is celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India, and among the Kurds — as well as among expatriates of those countries everywhere.

It is the vernal equinox and the new year combined, ringing in the first day of Farvardin, which is the first month of the Iranian solar Hijri calendar, still in use in Iran and Afghanistan.

(Besides Afghanistan and Iran, three other countries have old calendars, in addition to the Gregorian calendar, for everyday use: Ethiopia and Eritrea have the Ethiopian calendar, and Nepal uses Vikram Samvat and Nepal Sambat.)

Sherene Melania
Sherene Melania says the message of Nowruz is “especially poignant” this year

In San Francisco, Nowruz events took place yesterday in the War Memorial, and there will be a large community observation at City Hall on March 24 from noon to 3 p.m. and in many cities across the state between March 23 and 29. The Bay Area’s Ballet Afsaneh has been featured in many Nowruz observations, while in Orange County, Pacific Symphony reprises its annual concert on March 26.

The Persian word for “new day” is pronounced differently in Persian and Eastern dialects and spelled in English as noruz, nowrooz, norooz, novruz, nowruz, navruz, nauruz, and newroz — all good, and we’ll go with the most commonly used one.

The celebration originated in Zoroastrianism, the Persian religion that predates Christianity, observing the moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day. Traditional customs of Nowruz include fire and water, ritual dances, gift exchanges, reciting poetry, symbolic objects, and more.

Sherene Melania, of Presidio Dance Theatre, calls attention to her company’s show that fell on Nowruz this year, “proud to have an opportunity to expose students to the beauty of Iranian culture. They’ll be able to see traditional dances and also visit the haft-seen table displayed in the lobby.

“We hope that all students learn to appreciate other cultures, celebrating diversity while promoting inclusivity. Over the years we’ve heard wonderful stories of the ways in which Children’s Day [the March 20 event at the War Memorial] has inspired young audiences. For some it sparks an interest in dance, music, or design, often leading to a lifelong passion for the arts.”

Also participating in the Children’s Day shows was Iranian American fashion designer Lily Samii, Presidio Dance Theatre’s spring season artistic advisor.

Melania adds, “Nowruz is signifying the beginning of spring — it is a celebration of light triumphing over darkness. This message is especially poignant, given current events [in Iran and Afghanistan].

“Students will learn that dancing remains illegal in Iran. We hope that local students will realize that they are blessed to have basic rights, in addition to the freedom to express themselves through the arts. We will dance our finale together, in honor of the students of Iran, supporting their fight for freedom. We maintain hope that light will prevail in Iran.”