A New Year for our New Afghan Neighbors

Abdi Iftin | March 18, 2022

Nowruz treats!

On March 20 this year, about 300 million people worldwide will celebrate Nowruz. It’s the festival that marks the Persian new year and the start of Spring, and it is celebrated at the exact moment of the Spring equinox. The United Nations has praised Nowruz for promoting “peace and solidarity” among the many nations who celebrate it.

Nowruz is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for many Afghan families; in Afghanistan the celebration culminates on the first day of the Afghan New Year, which is March 21. Many Afghan families, including some recently resettled into the United States through Church World Service, will celebrate Nowruz for the first time outside of Afghanistan this year. CWS has welcomed more than 6,700 Afghans to communities across the United States through the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program. This Nowruz is a special one for CWS and our partners as we watch these new neighbors celebrate this Nowruz with hope and optimism.

Husna and her siblings arrived in Pennsylvania in early 2022. They are celebrating their first Nowruz, which Husna spells as “Nawruz”, outside of Afghanistan this year. Husna says that she is looking forward to Nowruz, since she and her siblings will gather as a family and with their wider community. She says that usually, the preparation for Nowruz begins a week before. She remembers the week leading up to Nowruz in Afghanistan: schools would wrap up the semester, people crowded at airports and bus stops to head home for the holiday, families start cleaning their house thoroughly. They washed the floors, the carpets, the walls, the roof, furniture. The reason for this thorough cleaning is to wash off the old season and welcome the new season with a fresh, clean home.

Every year is a new beginning full of hope. People mark this by putting up the Haf-sin, the seven symbolic items that start with the letter “s.” These items include the senjed fruit for love, vinegar for wisdom, age and patience and coins for prosperity and good fortune.

“Nowruz is not complete without the Hafta Mewa,” said Husna. This is the most popular drink of Nowruz. Hafta Mewa means the seven fruits: red raisins, black raisins, yellow raisins, dried apple, dried apricots, cherries and some nuts such as walnuts, pistachios and almonds. Husna and her siblings always spent time peeling the fruits, then they soak the fruit in liquid and leave it overnight. This creates a delightful, sweet mixture.

“Nowruz is also not complete without the entire family gathering,” added Husna. This is the first year Husna will be celebrating Nowruz away from her mother and father. The war and the conflict took them away from one another, but Husna says the memories of past Nowruz celebrations bring them together. “They are cleaning the house already, they are washing everything, and I am not there to help,” Husna exclaimed.

Recalling one of her favorite parts of Nowruz, Husna says, “I miss our girls’ night out.” There is a special word for the girls night out: the samanak party. Women or girls get together and prepare a special sweet dish made from wheat germ. The process takes a whole night: they sing, dance and laugh until sunrise. Then people emerge from their houses at sunrise dressed in colorful clothes to spend their day sharing food and wishing one another peace and love. Husna and her family often walked to the local farmers market to buy vegetables to support the farmers. “Nowruz is also the day to help one another, so we bought vegetable to support our farmers,” Husna says.

Abdi Iftin is the CWS Communications Specialist, Welcoming Communities.