Baha'i News -- Iranians welcome a New Year

Staff photo by Matt McClain

Shantelle Navid of Tarzana rollicks in a hammock, during Noruz - "new day," the Iranian New Year -- festivities attended by as many as 14,000 at Conejo Creek Park in Thousand Oaks on Sunday.

Iranians welcome a New Year

By Philippe Shepnick, Staff writer
April 1, 2002

Thousands of Iranians celebrated the Iranian New Year with food, family and friends Sunday at Conejo Creek Park in Thousand Oaks.

Conejo Valley officials expected as many as 14,000 from around the southland to descend on the park. Ventura County Sheriff's deputies were present on Janss Road, east of Highway 23, to direct traffic and shepherd cars into parking lots.

Problems with traffic last year prompted the police presence, and there was a $10 parking fee to cover the costs of handling the crowds. Nearby city facilities were closed for the weekend to free up additional parking places, Thousand Oaks city officials have said.

By mid-afternoon, there was only one complaint about traffic, said Claudia Tolmie, a Sheriff's Department communications supervisor. No crowd estimate was available, but it appeared to be smaller than expected, she said.

"Everything has been pretty much in control," she said.

"We've had no disturbances."

The 3,000 year-old celebration is part of an extended annual holiday called Noruz, which means "new day" in Persian. Observances begin on the first day of spring and end 13 days later with an outdoor gathering.

During the 13-day period, most homes get a thorough cleaning. A special table is laid with sacred books, pictures of saints, a mirror, candles, incense burners with incense, and various grains that will germinate and sprout. Each of the things on the table represent blessings from God.

This year, the last day falls April 2. In Iran, that day is a national holiday. Outside of Iran, it is celebrated on the Sunday closest to that day.

By midday Sunday, Iranian families had laid out blankets across the grass. Grandmothers played with their grandchildren. Wives chatted underneath the shade of a tree. Men sat in circles and chatted.

Many families brought huge coolers of food and tended to barbecues sizzling with meat.

There is no religious significance to the holiday, said Farhad Saleshari, 42, a West Los Angeles resident who has celebrated the day in Thousand Oaks for the last five years.

"It's like the Chinese New Year," he said. "We have Iranians here who are Bahai, Jewish, Moslem. If you're an Iranian, you're celebrating this day, no matter what your religion is."

But the new year is customarily celebrated near a lake with grass, so participants can throw away the bad events of the last year and hope for good news in the next year, Saleshari said. Single women hoping for a husband tie two pieces of grass together as a way to invite good luck, he said.

Saleshari added that the crowds seemed to be smaller than last year. This time he was able to play soccer with his 6-year-old son, Pejman.

"Last year, it would take you two hours to find parking," he said.

Shapour Esteghll, 35, of Glendale was watching friends dancing to a live band. Almost all of the 500,000 Iranians in Southern California are celebrating someplace outdoors, he said. One of the most popular places for Iranians to observe the new year is in a park in Irvine.

"But people will go anywhere they can," he said. "I know people celebrating in Malibu and Topanga."

Seeing so many Iranians in one place is a pleasing sight to Arthur Ashour, 56, of Reseda.

"I look forward to seeing people that I haven't seen in years," he said. "I feel very relieved to see so many people of my heritage in the same place."

Thousand Oaks residents Behrod Katebian 11, and his brother, Behdod, 10, said they usually see family and friends from Valencia, Santa Barbara and San Bernadino at the annual picnic.

Eleven-year-old Matt Khorsand of Newbury Park was looking forward to eating "Chella Kebab," a ground meat grilled on the barbecue.

"It's really fun," he said. "I see a ton of people here."

--Philippe Shepnick's e-mail address is

©Copyright 2002, The Ventura County Star

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