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Baha’is celebrate Naw-Ruz—New Year’s Day—on the first day of spring, the vernal equinox.
Celebrated like most happy holy days, Baha’i New Year observances often include singing, eating, dancing and socializing. Naw-Ruz brings a warm, diverse and loving group of people together to celebrate, have fun, enjoy each other’s company and truly welcome the exciting, unlimited possibilities of the new year.
But why do Baha’is and others celebrate Naw-Ruz on the first day of spring in the Northern hemisphere (and the first day of autumn in the Southern hemisphere)? What’s up with New Year’s in March?
As one of the world’s oldest holidays, no one really knows when or why people observed the first Naw-Ruz. But for millennia, the world’s indigenous cultures have made the changing of the seasons—the two equinoxes and the two solstices—days of special celebration. For those reasons and many more, Baha’is believe, the changing of the seasons has deep spiritual symbolism:
… just as the solar cycle has its four seasons, the cycle of the Sun of Reality has its distinct and successive periods. Each brings its vernal season or springtime. When the Sun of Reality returns to quicken the world of mankind a divine bounty descends from the heaven of generosity. The realm of thoughts and ideals is set in motion and blessed with new life. Minds are developed, hopes brighten, aspirations become spiritual, the virtues of the human world appear with freshened power of growth and the image and likeness of God become visible in man. It is the springtime of the inner world…
In it the former springtime has returned, the world is resuscitated, illumined and attains spirituality; religion is renewed and reorganized, hearts are turned to God, the summons of God is heard and life is again bestowed upon man. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 95.
This year’s Naw-Ruz, which occurs almost 175 years after the beginning of the Baha’i Faith, marks a celebratory feast of that spiritual and physical springtime. In the global North, as flowers bloom and trees bud out and birds trill in their branches—and as the hot season of summer turns to the beauty of autumn in the global South—Baha’is will smile and laugh and hug each other warmly. They’ll truly “eat, drink and be merry,” in the oldest and best sense of that happy phrase.
The annual 19-day Baha’i fasting period comes to a close on the day before Naw-Ruz; which means the Baha’is have prepared for the coming year by practicing detachment from this material world, symbolically cleansing the detritus of the old—in the same way the winter storms wash away last year’s dead leaves. Abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset every day, the Baha’i Fast has a powerful impact on those who practice it, emptying their stomachs as it fills their souls. When the Fast comes to a close the New Year begins.
For Baha’is, though, Naw-Ruz isn’t just a party. It has a much deeper meaning, serving as a reminder of the oneness of all the messengers of God, and the spiritual springtime they each brought to humanity. Abdu’l-Baha explained that Naw-Ruz represents not only the renewal of life on the Earth, but a time when a re-awakening of the spirit occurs and the light of a new revelation shines equally upon the entirety of God’s creation:
It is new year—that is to say, the rounding of the cycle of the year. A year is the expression of a cycle (of the sun). But now is the beginning of a cycle of Reality, a New Cycle, a New Age, a New Century, a New Time, and a New Year. Therefore, it is very blessed.
The rising of the sun at the equinox is the symbol of life, and likewise it is the symbol of the Divine Manifestations of God, for the rising of the Sun of Truth in the Heaven of Divine Bounty established the signal of Life for the world. The human reality begins to live, 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.
This period of time is the Promised Age … Soon the whole world, as in springtime, will change its garb … The New Year hath appeared and the spiritual springtime is at hand. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 9, p. 345.