Shab-e Yalda is a joyous evening honoring and celebrating the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. This special night was celebrated at the University of Maryland College Park by the Iranian Students Foundation, known as ISF, to bring the region’s Iranian-American community together for a night of festivity. Organized completely by Iranian-American students at the University of Maryland, the event hosts performances, dinner, and a night of dancing for hundreds of guests coming from around the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. Performances range from traditional Persian dances to renditions of classic Googoosh songs to poetry about Yalda; a favorite of the night is a Game Show where participants are chosen from the crowd to answer trivia questions on topics such as Persian history and Iranian pop culture to win the prize of a beautiful pomegranate.
ISF, founded in 1984, was created to bring together the university’s Iranian-American community as well as serve as a unifying Persian presence for the region. Additionally, the organization prides itself on educating the university’s community on Iranian-American affairs. Holding annual events for Yalda and Nooruz, as well as celebrating holidays such as Chahar Shanbeh Soori and having events such as Hokm tournaments, the organization helps bring all members of the university and region together. Much of ISF’s continued presence is a result of the university’s large focus on Persian language, culture, and history. The University of Maryland not only has a prominent Persian Studies department through the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, but has the nation’s only Persian language Flagship program. This program prides itself on offering an extensive Persian curriculum with classes for all language levels.
Yalda’s guests come from all around Maryland and the DMV area, representing the region’s large Iranian-American community and presence. ISF’s blossoming relationship with the DMV is seen through their connections with other university groups, such as working with the Johns Hopkins University’s Iranian Cultural Society and holding an annual soccer tournament called the Iran Cup with the Iranian student groups of the Virginia Commonwealth University, George Washington University, American University, and George Mason University. Not only is ISF indicative of the prospering and prominent Iranian-American community in the DMV, but they show the growing Iranian-American college community that represents a new generation of ecstatic and proud Iranians.
By Ariane Sharifi
Photo courtesy of the UMD ISF’s Facebook page.