After 44 Years of Producing Marin County’s Nowruz Event, Maryam Kafaii Spills the Tea

Looking for a reason to celebrate this weekend? Head to McNears Beach Park to celebrate the 13th day of Spring, known as Nowruz in the Persian community. 

When Maryam Kafaii moved to Marin with her family in 1977, she wanted to recreate the ancient celebrations of her childhood in Iran, and 44 years later, this annual event has grown into a multi-county get together of all things Nowruz. 

What’s Nowruz? 

According to Wikipedia, “The day of Nowruz has its origins in the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism and is thus rooted in the traditions of the Iranian peoples; however, it has been celebrated by diverse communities for over 3,000 years in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, the Balkans, and South Asia. Presently, while it is largely a secular holiday for most celebrants and enjoyed by people of several different faiths and backgrounds, Nowruz remains a holy day for Zoroastrians, Baháʼís, and some Muslim communities.” And according to Hamid Kafaii, Maryann’s son, Disney, took a stab at explaining it in this video. However, we like his explanation better:

“On the 13th day of the Spring (Nowruz), which we will be celebrating on Sunday April 7 in McNears Beach Park, families and people, by tradition, do not spend the day at home. It is called Seezdeh Bedar or Sizdeh Bedar which literally means the 13th day outing. Seezdeh or Sizdeh is thirteen (13).”

“People go picnicking outdoors and in parks to see everyone else in the community and to be seen too. It is about community building, neighbors commingle and get to know each other better. They share food with each other. Adults discuss their common matters of interest and share fun stories. Children get to play with each other and form friendships for life. Families bring their single marriage eligible youth with them so they get to see each other.”

“In the old days many marriages happened after Seezdeh Bedar picnics. Eligible single women kneel to tie grass, which has grown this time of the year, as a signal to single men that they are available. The men should never approach the women they like directly. Instead they point them out to their mothers and sisters or the elder women of their family. The women then approach the elder women of the other family, usually bringing them food, sweets, fruits or other offerings as a gesture of interest. The single woman’s family receives them and asks them to join them at their table. After introducing themselves and chatting with each other, the man’s mother expresses their son’s interest in the other family’s daughter. They get to see each other’s sons and daughters in these events.”

Here in Marin, the Nowruz events are all about community building, celebrating culture and heritage via traditional cuisine, music and friendships. We reached out to Maryam to learn a little more about why she puts on this beloved community event:

Q&A With Maryam Kafaii, Organizer of Marin’s Nowruz Celebrations

Photo by Hamid Kafaii

How did you first become involved in celebrating Nowruz, and what inspired you to bring this tradition to our area?

My family and I immigrated to the United States in 1977. We realized not many Americans know much about Iran and of the 3000 year history of ancient Persian culture which has contributed so much to the progress of civilizations throughout history. Many did not even know where Iran was and some had never heard of the name let alone the geographic location. I found most people in Marin County are educated and many came across as interested and inquisitive about other peoples and cultures. Also, I realized there was a small Iranian/Persian community in the San Francisco Bay Area with a few living in Marin County back then. Almost all of them were in search of defining their national, ethnic and historical  identity in their new home country which is a melting pot of many others. In 1980 this inspired me to organize a gathering to celebrate and to introduce our traditions and the fun ancient festivities in our new home community. This would help many to know more about us and our cultural heritage and, also, to bring the then small Iranian-American population in the Bay Area together.  

What are some of the key elements of Nowruz celebrations that you incorporate into your events?

I have tried to incorporate all elements of historical and customary rituals of the Nowruz festivities in order to keep time honored traditions alive without dilution nor inventing new ones. I believe this will depict an authentic representation of the culture and not just for the community at large but also for the many younger generations of full or partial Iranian/Persian background who were born in the United States and who have never lived or traveled to Iran. My goal for organizing these events has always been to introduce, to unify and to pass on the ancient traditions to the community in which we live, to the young and to those who will come after us.

In what ways do you see Nowruz as a bridge between different cultures and communities?

Although Nowruz is an ancient Persian tradition and celebration, it has never been an exclusive festivity to just a few in a region of the world with many inhabitants of various nationalities, ethnicities, religions and languages. The old Persian Empire was a multicultural, multinationality and inclusive of all peoples. We follow the same tradition today. Nowruz is inclusive and belongs to everyone.

How do you navigate the challenges of preserving and promoting Persian heritage and traditions in a new cultural context?

Needless to say, the challenges are many and not all are easy. The tasks of planning, organizing and actually carrying out our events are always exigent and arduous. Logistics, bureaucracy, regulations, public relations, lobbying certain authorities and most importantly budgeting and expense are always issues and challenges. Nowruz events in Marin County are public community events for and inclusive of everyone in the community regardless of their backgrounds.

Can you tell us about any memorable experiences or moments that have occurred during your Nowruz celebrations in our area?

I am very thankful to many individuals, businesses, organizations and to the County of Marin especially to the County of Marin Parks Department and their dedicated staff and rangers throughout the years. Without doubt the best memorable experience has been all the help, assistance and cooperation we are and have been receiving from all the above-mentioned sources. Also seeing joy, smiles in the faces of all those who have graced us with their presence and participation in the Nowruz events have been the most satisfying and rewarding compensation for me.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of Nowruz celebrations and Persian cultural awareness in our community?

To make the Nowruz heritage an all-inclusive community celebration and to pass on the tradition to the younger and the next generations to come. 

How do you think celebrating Nowruz contributes to promoting diversity and inclusivity in our society?

Nowruz is a great and happy tradition of praising and celebrating our earth, nature, environment, people, community and family. Who wouldn’t?  I firmly believe in the Nowruz tradition and customs.

Are there any specific initiatives or projects you are working on to further promote Persian culture and heritage locally?

Yes, my hope is to help organize more Middle Eastern/Mediterranean arts, music and food events in Marin County for better awareness and recognition of our diverse community.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in learning more about and participating in Nowruz celebrations?

We live in the age of plentiful and readily available information. Please read and educate yourselves about all cultures and peoples and not just Nowruz. We will all live in a better world of peace, understanding coexistence going forward together.

Marin County’s Nowruz Proclamation

In March 2023 Marin County issued a proclamation acknowledging the contributions to the county by Iranian Americans and wishing a prosperous new year from the County.

Nowruz Resolution

 Seezdeh Bedar 2024 Information

سیزده بدر ۱۴۰۳ در مارین کانتی

یکشنبه  ۷ ( هفتم ) آپریل ۲۰۲۴

Seezdeh Bedar 2024

In Marin County 

Sunday April 7, 2024 

8:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Please come and join us:

Location: McNears Beach Park

                     201 Cantera Way, San Rafael, CA 94901

Catering: Kabbq Restaurants & Catering

                     all transactions will be in cash only

Music: DJ Teymour & Live Performances 

Persian ice cream, faloodeh & deserts will be served by Golnazar Gourmet Ice Creams.

We will have delicious Persian food & beverages catered at the event all day.

 Please Note:

  • This is a free community event.
  • Distribution of flyers and advertising without the consent of the organizers are not allowed. 
  • No independent commercial sales or purchases of any goods or items are permitted whatsoever.
  • Political & Religious demonstrations, gatherings, and dissemination of such information are not permitted.
  • In case of unfavorable weather, the event will be cancelled.
  • Dogs and other domestic animals Are Not Allowed In The Park except for dogs trained and used as service animals as defined The Americans With Disabilities Act. Individuals accompanying dogs are required to properly clean up and dispose of pet waste. 

Special Thanks To:

Marin County Parks
SR Police Department
SR Fire Department
Marin County Sheriff
City of San Rafael
Mayor Kate Colin
Former Mayor Al Boro
Marin County Supervisor Mary Sackett
San Rafael Chamber of Commerce
City Carpets (San Rafael)
DJ Teymour
Kabbq Restaurant & Catering
Golnazar Ice Cream