International Coffee Hour celebrates March holidays

With a turnout of around 20, students pushed the separate tables together to create one big table to enjoy snacks, laugh and bond over shared experiences at the  International Coffee Hour on Friday, March 3. 

Education Abroad, International Club and the International Student and Scholar Services came together to host the event in honor of March holidays Nowruz and Holi in the west lounge of the Student Center.

While the gathered students enjoyed coffee, cookies, and apples, Mahshid Zamani of the International Program at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) gave a presentation on Nowruz, or New Year. This holiday always falls on March 21 and is celebrated by most of the Middle East and Asia, a total of 500 million people.

Nowruz means “new day” and is celebrated at the moment the new year begins, which is calculated and changes slightly each year. Families will prepare a Half Sin, meaning “Seven S.’” This is a table of symbolic items which typically includes:

Sabzeh: sprouted grass symbolizing rebirth and renewal of nature 

Samanu: wheat pudding to represent fertility and sweetness of life 

Senjed: dried fruit to symbolize love and affection

Serkeh: vinegar, meaning patience and age

Seeb: apples represent health and beauty

Seer: garlic, for good health

Somagh: crushed spice of berries which represents the sunrise and spice of life

While these are the traditional seven items, it is common for those celebrating to also place:

Mirrors: to represent the sky and self reflection 

Goldfish in a bowl of water: symbolizing movement and life

Decorated eggs: attracting fertility 

Coins: manifesting wealth and prosperity

Books: meaning knowledge  

Nowruz is an occasion for families to exchange gifts, enjoy delicious food and dance. Zamani ended her presentation by handing out chocolate coins to wish students prosperity. 

Following Zamani was speaker Devanash Sharma, President of International Club, sharing his lecture on the Indian celebration of Holi. This is a festival held worldwide on the full moon day of Phalguna (February-March).

“Holi tells me how exuberant life is. The only thing we have today, right now, is that we’re alive,” said Sharma. 

Holi is a two-day festival celebrating the arrival of spring and the end of winter. It has been celebrated since the Fourth Century CE. Farmers look forward to this holiday to signal the start of the harvest season.

During this celebration Holika, a medicinal herb, is burned in bonfires to represent removal of bitterness and negativity. This is due to the famous fable behind Holi, which has many versions.

In one version, Hiranyakashipu, a demon king, terrorized the world and believed himself to be all powerful. He forced those around him to be worshiped as a god. When he found his son Prahalad worshiped Lord Vishnu (protector of the universe and his devotees) as his deity, the demon king ordered his son to be killed by any means possible. Time after time, his attempts failed and his son remained unharmed. Enraged, Hiranyakashipu ordered his sister, Holika, to kill Prahalad. Because of Holika’s immunity to fire, he told her to hold Prahalad in a bonfire until death. When the plan was attempted, Prahalad was protected by his devotion to Lord Vishnu who reversed Holika’s power and burned her instead of him.

“Besides being a reminder of the power of good over evil, the story of Prahlad teaches us the important strength imbued to those who remain humble, kind and tolerant to all the many negative situations life inevitably presents,” said Sharma.

During this festival, the streets and attendants are painted rainbow with Gulal, colored powder, that is thrown by participants at each other and into the air. These colors are bright, beautiful and hold significant meaning to the festivities. Red represents want, passion, and courage. Blue, the color of the sky and ocean, symbolizes calm and serenity. Each color attracts another positive quality to the rest of the year. 

Food and drink enjoyed during the festivities include:

Thandai: a milk with peppercorn, almonds, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, cardamom, saffron and rose.

Gujiya: sweet fried dumpling filled with a mixture of milk solids and nuts.

Dahi Bhalla: Deep fried lentil fritters dunked in yogurt and topped with chutneys.

Rasmalai: Juicy cheese discs with thickened milk

“When I put color on my face, you don’t know where I’m from. You don’t know my gender, my nationality, what I believe in, we are all one. Holi is that festival that makes me one. With nature, with people, with earth, with everything. I am one with everything today,” Sharma’s presentation concluded. 

If you missed this event, the CSUMB Dining Commons will be hosting another Holi celebration on March 8 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with Samosa Chaat, Mango Lassi and colored powder. 

“Nowruz Mobarak!” declared Mahshid Zamani. “We need to use any opportunity to celebrate each other’s holidays because it’s fun. Simple as that.”

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