Over 350 students, friends and families attended the annual Yalda celebration hosted by the Iranian Student Foundation on Saturday night at the Riggs Alumni Center.
Yalda is a Persian festival that celebrates the winter solstice, or the longest night of the year, which falls on Dec. 21 this year. The event featured traditional Iranian food, dancing, music and poetry.
Nine ISF board members and 40 volunteers worked all day Saturday to make the event happen. The event was a little more “bold and ambitious” than previous Yalda celebrations at the University of Maryland, said ISF President Behtash Banihashemi.
“The board gives their own flair to it and expression to it,” he said. “It reflects my own experiences with the community.”
Many of the students who attended the event had not heard of or celebrated the holiday before, including Lindsey Phillips, a sophomore economics and government and politics major. “I don’t understand any of the language but the poem sounded really nice,” said Phillips, in regards to her favorite performance of the night.
“It’s a great way to show your heritage and get a good understanding of the culture,” said Reema Domadia, a senior environmental engineering and government and politics major. Domadia attended the event because she wanted to get a better understanding of the Persian culture.
The event is nonpolitical and nonreligious, in order to cater to all different generations. The foundation tries to stay traditional but also unique. “We do that and see which part of the community shows up,” said Banihashemi.
Iranians from around the area attended the event, as well. “The DMV is blessed with having a large Iranian community,” said Banihashemi.
According to the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area has the third largest Iranian population in the country, behind Los Angeles and New York City.
However, catering to the different generations can be challenging, said Banihashemi. “A lot of the waves of immigration like different things,” he said. “We try to do the traditional stuff because it’s the easiest.”
The event included a silent auction that raised over $200 to benefit the Omid Foundation, which is an organization that members of ISF have traveled to Iran to work with. The foundation’s goal is to “empower disadvantaged young women in Iran.”
The ISF is a large cultural group on campus with approximately 40 people in attendance at their weekly meetings. The foundation also hosts Norooz during the spring semester, which is a celebration, including all religions, of the Iranian New Year in March.
“I think in this time and this climate, more than ever, it’s important to celebrate our diversity and identities,” said Dr. Nahal Akbari, the director of the Persian language program. “We’re proud of ISF.”