Hundreds expect to celebrate Persian New Year today at Pleasanton Senior Center

For several thousand Iranian Americans living here, festivities will mark start of Year 1389

The Iranian American Youth of Pleasanton will celebrate the Persian New Year from 3 to 6 p.m. today in the Pleasanton Senior Center.

The event, which marks Year 1389 on the Persian calendar, is open to the public with free admission and includes Persian music, dance, Persian food, pastries and tea. The new year actually starts at 10:32 a.m. on March 20, the first day of spring.

According to Mina Behnam of Pleasanton, about 100,000 Iranian Americans live in the Bay Area with several thousand in the Tri-Valley. In the last 10 years, the New Year celebration has been held at the Pleasanton Senior Center, attracting crowds ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 individuals.

The Pleasanton celebration is one of several in the Bay Area. Others are at the Persian centers in Berkeley and San Francisco, with even larger celebrations in the South Bay, including Guadalupe Park in downtown San Jose and Vasona Park in Los Gatos.

Behnam said the Persian holiday actually starts two weeks ahead of the New Year with families spring-cleaning their homes.

"Usually, a couple of days before the Persian New Year, Iranian place special covers on their home carpets and tables," she said. "This is called Sofreh-ye Haft seen, which means 'seven dishes setting,' each one beginning with the Persian letter Seen, or the English letter 'S.'"

"The number seven has been sacred in Iran since olden times and the seven dishes stand for the seven angelic messengers of life-rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience and beauty," Behnam explained.

These symbolic dishes consist of sabzeh, or sprouts representing rebirth, new life; samanu, a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet; seeb, an apple representing health and beauty; senjed, the sweet, dry fruit of the lotus tree, representing love; seer, which means garlic, to keep evil forces away, and for good health and medicine; somaq, which are sumac berries representing the spice of life; serkeh, or vinegar, representing age, patience, and wisdom; sekeh, which are coins representing prosperity, and sonbol, which is a hyacinth symbolizing the spring.

From the second day of the New Year through the 12th day, Iranian Americans visit relatives and friends to wish them a healthy and happiness, Behnam said. It is customary for older people to give brand new money kept unfolded in the Sofreh, the holy book of Koran, and a book of poems by Persian poets, such as those by Omar Khayyam.

"On the 13th day, people go on picnics since it is considered unlucky to stay indoors on 13th day," Behnam said, "as they complete their 12 days of celebrating the new year. This last day of celebration is called Sizdeh Bedar."

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