As a child, I drove my parents crazy with questions. “Curiosity killed the cat,” my mother told me, but our cat was fine, so I kept asking. One of the very early burning philosophical conundrums I remember asking about occurred to me as a four-year-old on New Year’s Day. My family lived in a farm community in eastern Washington State near the Canadian border, and, typical for the middle of winter, we had several feet of snow on the ground. I asked my parents “Why does New Year’s come today? The year isn’t new yet, it’s still old and cold.”
They laughed – kids say the darnedest things – and told me that’s just the way it is. Still, after that I always wondered why the New Year didn’t fall on the first day of spring, where my four-year-old mind, for some unknown reason, insisted it logically and rightfully belonged.
Eleven years later I learned about the Baha’i Faith. It intrigued me, so I investigated, went to Baha’i meetings, read and tried to deepen my knowledge of the Faith for three more years. The Baha’i teachings made imminent sense to me – especially the oneness of humanity, the essential unity of all faiths and the agreement of science and religion. Eventually, as I studied the teachings and got to know the Baha’is themselves, I found that my questions were welcomed, not scoffed at or shunned. I realized that was why the Baha’i Faith had no clergy— because the Baha’i principle of independent investigation of the truth actually encourages questions.
And after my questions were answered, I was just about ready to declare my belief in Baha’u’llah’s beautiful Faith. Then, for some strange and completely unknown reason, my unanswered four-year-old’s curiosity about New Year’s popped into my head.
“So is there a Baha’i calendar?” I asked my Baha’i friend Bob Gulick.
“Oh, of course,” he said, happy to tell me about it. “Every new religious dispensation brings a new calendar. The Baha’i calendar has 19 months of 19 days each, with an intercalary day period of four days, five days in a leap year, which adds up nicely to 365 days. It’s a solar calendar, and a very scientifically-advanced one, because its structure allows for variations in the earth’s orbit around the sun.” Bob loved science.
“That’s fascinating,” I said. But I was thinking about my big question. I didn’t completely understand why this small detail seemed so important to me, either. Maybe it had something to do with my childhood, and the rigid way I was raised in a Protestant tradition. Independent investigation of the truth, seeking answers to all the questions I had as a child, was definitely discouraged in our church. I had been taught to just accept and believe what I was told by the minister. That didn’t work for me, which is why I was searching. Finally I just blurted it out: “So when is the Baha’i New Year?”
“Ah!” Bob told me, “It’s called Naw-Ruz – which just means New Year in Persian. It’s always on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.”
Thrilled, I let out a big breath I hadn’t been aware I was holding. “Wonderful!’ I said, the words rushing out. “I never could figure out why New Year’s wasn’t on the first day of spring! It seemed so bizarre, so wrong to put it in the middle of winter…”
Bob seemed to understand, but he gently corrected me. “Well, you’re right; Naw-Ruz is on the first day of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the people in the world live. Just about every faith celebrates that renewal of life. But of course the vernal equinox is the first day of fall in the southern part of the world. What’s important is that the sun illuminates the world equally on that day. The Baha’i writings say that’s a symbol of God’s message.” Then Bob went to his extensive Baha’i library, pulled out a book, and read me this quote about Naw-Ruz:
From time immemorial this day has been consecrated, for in this there is a symbol.
At this moment the sun appears at the meridian and the day and night are equal. Until today the north pole has been in darkness. This sacred day when the sun illumines equally the whole earth is called the equinox and the equinox is the symbol of the divine messenger. The sun of truth rises on the horizon of divine mercy and sends forth its rays on all. This is the beginning of the spring. When the sun appears at the equinox it causes a movement in all living things. The mineral world is set in motion, plants begin to sprout, the desert is changed into a prairie, trees bud and every living thing responds, including the bodies of animals and men.
The rising of the sun at the equinox is the symbol of life and the human reality is revivified; our thoughts are transformed and our intelligence is quickened. The sun of truth bestows eternal life, just as the solar sun is the cause of terrestrial life. (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p.75)
The next day I became a Baha’i.