Persian Culture Showcased at Chicago Children’s Museum
by Neda Nabavi
In honor of Nowruz, since March of 2006, the Chicago Children’s Museum has included the Persian culture as a part of its Passport to the World program. Passport to the World at Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM) is a year-round series of performances, demonstrations and workshops representing the arts and traditions of the city’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods. CCM partners with dozens of local residents and organizations to ensure quality “first person” authenticity of each community-driven presentation. The Passport to the World program exposes visitors to a rich variety of people, beliefs and cultures. Their goal is not only to educate, break down stereotypes, and build tolerance; they strive to help children and families build a strong and confident, informed, and proud group identity. The vision of the program is that visitors will develop an enthusiasm for interaction with diversity that turns simple tolerance into true appreciation of Chicago’s rich and diverse culture.
Neda Nabavi, a member of the Chicago PAAIA Leadership Team and Executive Director of Shabeh Jomeh, initiated the relationship with the museum in October of 2005 with the hopes of doing a screening of a cartoon “Babak and Friends: A First Norooz.” The relationship quickly matured into a partnership with the museum and the community to bring the festival to life.
Passport to Persia showcases local talent throughout the 3 day festival. The event is held the weekend before Nowruz and includes ongoing activities: egg painting, t-shirt making, visiting with Amoo Nowruz, and bookmark making. The activities surround the main stage where performers from the local Persian community play music and dance for both new and repeat visitors to the Program
Char Shanbeh Suri festivals were reenacted with fake fires, the story behind this momentous day of spring anticipation and of course the saying “My pallor be yours; your rigor be mine.” (“Zardie man az to; sorkhi to az man.”) You know the kids had a blast jumping over the “fires”! The University of Illinois at Chicago Persian Cultural Association got their “gher” on Thursday, March 11 to kick off the program. Saturday was filled with Chicago Persian School students singing, dancing, and putting on a play. The University of Chicago Middle Eastern Ensemble brought sounds of ancient Persia to modern Chicago. The Zoroastrian Association of Chicago presented ancient Zoroastrian artifacts and shared the root of many of our modern traditions. A table full of Persian sweets (shirni), provided by Rose Catering, sweetened the mouths of visitors. A dance workshop to teach the children how to get their own “gher” on ended the program on a high note – full of energy and smiles.
The Haft Seen/Haft Sheen display is a perfect example of an ancient tradition that many have modernized into the Haft Seen. The Haft Seen elements vinegar, wheat grass, garlic, sumac, apple, sweet wheat germ pudding, and dried fruit of the lotus tree (serkeh, sabzeh, seer, somagh, seeb, samanoo, senjed); and, the haft sheen elements are honey, juice, sweets, syrup, sweet rice pudding, candles, and wine (shad , sharbat, shirni, sheereh, sheer berenj, sham, and sharab) .
As with all traditions, they start somewhere. The tradition of showcasing Persian Culture blossoms in the spring every year at the Chicago Children’s Museum. Through this partnership the Chicago community has found a way to share their rich culture and give children of all ages and backgrounds a place where they can be themselves and learn something along the way.