Annual Chaldean festival celebrates a new year

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Under a banner “Chaldeans are the Cradle of Civilization,” people began the traditional hand-in-hand Khiga dance circling the promenade. Hundreds of people gathered at El Cajon’s Prescott Promenade on Sunday to celebrate the

New Year. For the Chaldeans, April 1 marks the beginning of the year 7313.

El Cajon is home to more than 40,000 Chaldeans making East County the second largest Iraqi population in the nation.

Under a banner “Chaldeans are the Cradle of Civilization,” people began the traditional hand-in-hand Khiga dance circling the promenade. Hundreds of people gathered at El Cajon’s Prescott Promenade on Sunday to celebrate the

New Year. For the Chaldeans, April 1 marks the beginning of the year 7313.

El Cajon is home to more than 40,000 Chaldeans making East County the second largest Iraqi population in the nation.

Fouad Bodak, organizer of the annual Chaldean Festival said the festival is “counting the years since the beginning of civilization.”

Chaldeans and friends flocked the promenade, many in traditional ceremonial dress. Sara Zara, born in Baghdad, came to the U.S. in 2009.
“At first our family moved to Point Loma, but there were no other Chaldeans around. Then we came to El Cajon,” she said.

Zara said Chaldeans chose to settle in El Cajon to be close to the churches St. Peter’s and St. Michael’s. Lina Oraha, a Grossmont College student, moved to El Cajon in 2008 and said it is tradition to go to church every Sunday and the festival is a place for all Chaldeans to gather.

At the Chaldean American Association booth, Samer Shamasha sold books, flags and other traditional items.
“There are many Chaldean villages,” he said. “The New Year celebration is a time we can all enjoy.”

Wally Yusif moved from Iraq to El Cajon in 2011. He said the festival continues the traditions of their fathers and people.

“I do like the freedom here to go, to worship where you want,” Yusif said. “That is a main point. We have a lot of good to be happy about.”

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