Students celebrate Yalda during coffee hour
Recent mathematics alumnus Sahar Banisafar, left, and graduate student Omid Zandi, right, work together to prepare tea during an International Coffee Hour event held Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in the Spartan B and C rooms of the International Center. The MSU Persian Student Association sponsored the event in celebration of Yalda night, a celebration of the birth of the sun and typically celebrated on the winter solstice. Danyelle Morrow/The State News
Among all of the tables set out for the Office for International Students and Scholars, or OISS, weekly Coffee Hour, one table stuck out vividly among the rest.
While other tables offered different coffee varieties on simple black tablecloths, the Yalda table was festively decorated to reflect Persian traditions with purple and gold candles, and traditional food and drink such as pomegranate seeds, a specially-carved watermelon and Persian tea — all set on decorative red, blue and gold fabrics.
“The difficult part was designing the watermelon, you see,” Persian Student Association president Fariborz Daneshvar said, who skyped with his family on the actual holiday — the Persian equivalent of Thanksgiving — which took place Dec. 21.
Daneshvar, along with roughly 70 other Iranian students at MSU, celebrated the holiday away from his family. While it was disheartening for Daneshvar to be so far from home, he said he was happy the OISS helped him celebrate his Iranian culture on campus.
In order to celebrate Yalda Night in the U.S., the Persian Student Association used the OISS’ weekly Coffee Hour as a platform to showcase the holiday.
Graduate student Elaheh Esfahanian plays a tombak drum in celebration of Yalda night Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in the Spartan B and C rooms of the International Center. The MSU Persian Student Association hosted the International Coffee Hour to promote and celebrate the holiday typically celebrated at the winter solstice. Danyelle Morrow/The State News
The event also shed a positive light on Iranian culture, which has been bogged down by negative stereotypes in the past, students at the event said.
“We are showing that we also have these nice things in our culture, and (we’re) showing this beauty and the history of Iran to MSU and other societies,” graduate student Soroor Soltani said. “Maybe (we can change) all the wrong conceptions people have (about) Iran and try to bring out the nice things we do— the celebrations of culture.”
Ravi Ammigan, assistant director for the OISS, said fostering these types of discussions is the nature of the coffee hours, which take place 4-6 p.m. every Friday in Spartan Room B and C of the International Center.
When students walk in the door to the coffee hour, they are instructed to write down both their name and country of origin.
After grabbing cups of coffee, students naturally form circles and have discussions — rarely does the same country show up on more than one name tag in each circle.
“We want it to be organic. Very rarely will we stop the energy in the room — we want to build community,” Ammigan said.