The Greater Houston community was welcomed to a lively display of Persian and Ismaili culture through the Navroz Festival held in Buffalo Bayou Park, just across the street from the site of the upcoming Ismaili Center Houston.

Attendees of all ages and backgrounds were immersed in Navroz celebrations through live music, cultural dances, and a sea of bright spring colors. Reflecting on the event, held on Sunday, March 12, Content Lead Shahnoor Khuwaja shared: “It was a prideful moment for the Ismaili community to host such a massive event at one of the most public sites in Houston. There were countless attendees of all ages, cultures, and areas, and bringing them together for one celebration proved to be an enriching experience for all.”

Karen Farber, Vice President of Buffalo Bayou Partnership, noted: “We are delighted that the Navroz Spring Festival was held in Buffalo Bayou Park. We love when groups choose it for inclusive, celebratory events such as the Navroz Festival. It was a special honor for Buffalo Bayou Partnership to be asked to participate in the festival.”

Tile-designing activity using a traditional Persian stencil at the New Year’s Gems arts and crafts booth

Tile-designing activity using a traditional Persian stencil at the New Year’s Gems arts and crafts booth.
Tile-designing activity using a traditional Persian stencil at the New Year’s Gems arts and crafts booth.

Navroz is a festival that marks the beginning of a new year and the first day of spring. Noza Davlatali, an Emcee for the event and originally from Tajikistan, described the traditional week-long celebrations of Navroz: “People dress up in new traditional attire, do a deep spring cleaning, and welcome friends and relatives into their home. Family members enter their home with a small tree branch as a symbol of spring and the emergence of new life.”

Besides the several cultural dances and traditional musical pieces performed, the Navroz Festival had a variety of engaging activities to learn more about the holiday. Attendees and passersby began at a Haft-Sin display consisting of symbolic items, including grass (growth), pudding (strength), olives (love), flowers (sunrise), vinegar (patience), apples (beauty), garlic (health), and coins (wealth). After learning about Navroz and its symbolic elements, some took part in egg painting, mehndi application, calligraphy, bracelet-making, tile-designing, flower-planting, and more.

The Asia Society Texas Center, a partner in the event and an educational institution in Houston’s Museum District, hosted a booth for coloring in the outline of a bird, signifying new beginnings through self-expression. Jennifer Kapral, Director of Education and Outreach for the Center commented: “This festival is a remarkable symbol of diversity and a beautiful display of how cultural and pluralistic this community is. We’re very pleased to celebrate spring and renewal with fellow Houstonians of all different backgrounds.”

Ghena Ezzo, a Syrian artist, painted vibrant flowers among the words “Ya Ali Madad” (May Ali Help You, a traditional Ismaili greeting) and “Navroz Mubarak” (Blessed New Year, a greeting exchanged on Navroz). Ghena was joyous in expressing her heritage through her passion for art. “Every job I’ve ever held for the past 26 years has been in the arts, as it’s such a large part of my culture and, therefore, my identity,” Ghena said as she painted strokes of green and blue on her canvas at the Live Calligraphy booth.

Local resident Michael Beatty, father of 6-year-old Ailie Beatty, stumbled upon the Navroz Festival with his family while enjoying the sunny weather in Houston. They were drawn to the bright colors and rhythmic music and took part in each of the activities and crafts. “We didn’t know much about Navroz before this event, but we were able to draw so many parallels to our own religious traditions throughout,” remarked Michael. Ailie enjoyed the egg painting as she learned about festivals and traditions outside of her own culture and the significance of spring around the world.

Volunteers at the Navroz Festival posing in front of the stage

Volunteers at the Navroz Festival posing in front of the stage
Volunteers at the Navroz Festival posing in front of the stage

Attendees stopped by The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAh) booth to create geometric art inspired by the art on an Iranian Ewer (Jug), now a part of the new Arts of the Islamic World gallery, which opened at the museum earlier this month. Zulma Vega, a multidisciplinary artist at MFAh, spoke about the significance of geometric art and described it as “an essential art experiment to take part in, as it allows everyone to see how different shapes can come together to create something much larger and more complex, as well as how colors look independently and how they perform when they are mixed.” Zulma remarked that this is a very meaningful representation of how different cultures can come together to create something much more powerful, thus leveraging diversity for the betterment of society.

Younger attendees were mesmerized by the multitude of art and activities of self-expression, as this is something that many of them have grown up doing at home for Navroz. Namia Momin, age 6, shared, “I enjoyed egg painting the best. At home, we paint eggs to symbolize new beginnings on Navroz.” As Manha Dhuka, age 9, arranged geometric shapes, she commented, “I’m using these shapes to create a house. At home, we have exciting celebrations for Navroz, including eating some of our favorite foods as a family.” Four-year-old Chloe Nathoo expressed that she enjoyed painting “Navroz Mubarak” calligraphy the best. “I used bright colors for Navroz. I’m even wearing a dress with bright flowers to show new blooms and starts.”

After exploring the booths, visitors gathered around the plaza to watch cultural performances. From graceful Tajik dances, rhythmic Pashtun dances, and delicate Badakhshan dances to live music and regional fusions, they came together to unite under the shared umbrella of art and multicultural expression.

On the occasion of the beginning of spring and the Persian New Year, we wish everyone, Navroz Mubarak!