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A Night of Maroon and Burgundy: GU-Q Celebrates Shab-e-Yalda

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY IN QATAR (Jan. 19, 2023) The winter season in Qatar just got better as The Iranian Society club hosted Shab-e-Yalda at the Fountain Terrace of the GU-Q campus. The event, which is referred to as “the night of the winter solstice", signifies the longest and darkest night of the year in the Persian calendar. The phrase Shab-e-Yalda roughly translates to “night of birth” as it references the sun being reborn, which ultimately manifests new beginnings and new health.

Pioneered by the club, this celebration marks its first-ever debut on the entire Georgetown calendar of events. Zahra Saboorzadeh ‘25, President and Co-founder of The Iranian Society, says that cultural events like this are necessary because it enriches the community. Shab-e-Yalda is an ancient festival that is celebrated not only in Iran but also Turkey, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan. With GU-Q priding itself on the dense demography of diversity across students, faculty, and staff, this event, as one of their goals, truly provides an opportunity to socialize and connect. As Saboorzadeh said, “We have a wide range of students from all nationalities but we’re barely exposed to all the different cultures.” Thus, emphasizing the need for achieving this objective.

Traditionally, people who celebrate this usually wear red and stay up from dusk until dawn to welcome the sunrise. This is channeled through the red of different shades which decorated the whole occasion, a motive to honor the highlights of the night, watermelon and pomegranate. Aside from the festive music and lots of dancing which enlivened the cold night, the club also served food: charcuterie boards, pomegranate and watermelon juice, and most notably, customary local Iranian food such as kebab, among many others, for guests to experience the authenticity of the culture being celebrated.

The entire evening was filled with thematic activities which everyone enjoyed, one of which was ‘Painting with pomegranate’ where people had the chance to create art on blank canvases using watercolor and pomegranate. They also competed for 100 QAR vouchers in ‘Who can eat more watermelon?’ where participants ate as many watermelons as they could under time pressure. To finish the evening off, the last activity held was ‘Writing Wishes’ where attendees wrote wishes on a piece of paper, sealed them on an envelope, and hung them on strings suspended on bushes. By doing this, it signifies that whatever wish they wrote will come true by the time the sun rises in the morning.

As enjoyable as it is, taking the initiative to introduce cultural events like this is a pivotal step to forming communal discussions within such a diverse collective. Kim Chen, Class Representative of 2026, expressed the importance of celebrations like this: “I think it’s a great event [...] I believe that one of the most significant things we can do is honor everyone’s cultural background and get to know those that we’re not familiar with”. Not only that, Mohammad Jaski ‘25, Co-president, and Co-founder of the club, believes that this is an opportunity for people to see and understand Iran beyond its politics. “We study the Iranian government and its political and economic aspects so much but we barely know anything about its culture”, he explains.

In hindsight, with more months to come, having an occasion like this is a fresh kickstart for the Spring ‘23 semester. It shows that the Georgetown community can integrate enjoyable and interesting activities that also ultimately align with their values such as People for Others and Community in Diversity, among others, which are evident in the celebration. Going forward with the purpose established by the institution, GU-Q, and its various clubs are looking forward to hosting more cultural events which encompass more identities, groups, and traditions.

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