The cracking of egg shells, heaping plates, and prayer marked the new year for Winnipeg’s growing Yazidi community.
The religious-ethnic minority celebrated the year 6767 on April 19 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg with a large community dinner and display of traditional cultural practices.
Nafiya Naso said the annual event, known as Sere Sal, commemorates the day when the Yazidi deity Tawsi Melek first came to Earth, to offer blessings, restore calm, and spread colour throughout the world.
It was also the first opportunity in years for over 30 newcomer Yazidis refugees to celebrate the important holiday in relative safety.
Naso, a settled Yazidi refugee herself, and Operation Ezra, a Winnipeg-based group of charities and community organizations — including Jewish Child and Family Services — have been working for the past two years to sponsor 35 Yazidis to come to Winnipeg. Another family of six arrived on April 26.
The religious group has been a target of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and much of the population living in northern Iraq has fled to refugee camps or has been killed.
"The recently arrived families could not be more excited to celebrate here in Winnipeg," Naso said. "They’ve been celebrating the New Year in a refugee camp the past two years and in the camps they had to celebrate quietly because they feared being attacked by other groups.
"They still can’t believe that so many people from different religions and cultural backgrounds will be joining them to celebrate here in Winnipeg."
Michel Aziza, spokesman and volunteer with Operation Ezra, said the organization was "thrilled" to help the Yazidi community share its culture with the community at large.
"The celebration of Sere Sal is an opportunity for the Yazidi community of Manitoba to come together and mark a very a joyous occasion," Aziza said. "Operation Ezra hopes to continue its work in bringing more Yazidi families to safely and in doing so to contribute to a strong and successful Yazidi community in Canada."
As part of the new year traditions, Yazidis decorate eggs, place dyed egg shells and a red rose above the door to their home, do a big spring clean, and prepare a large meal to share. Celebrations back in Iraq were characteristic of a large wedding, Naso recalled, while events previously held in Winnipeg have been more subdued.
The small community of about 100 Yazidis in Winnipeg have marked the new year since 2002, Naso said, and this year’s community dinner was a departure from the small, intimate gatherings in the past.
"What we’ve done is we share each other’s home," Naso said. "You go from home to home and pray with the family, you have to have a bit to eat, whether that’s the main meal or a hard-boiled egg or some sort of sweet. You have to eat before you leave the home.
"You try to connect with anyone you can — your friends, neighbours, relatives — and you just share a meal," she explained.
With about 200 people attending this year’s holiday celebration, Naso said the event carried a lot of hope for the community.
"Personally, it took me many years to open up and talk to people about the culture and religion and things like that," she said. "I’ve been doing it for the last two years trying to raise awareness and help families get here but this is a little different.
"It’s really exciting… just to teach people what we’re about and a little bit more of the culture, and for other people just to see what we do and how we do things."