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Like kids do, I probably drove my parents crazy with thousands of questions. “Curiosity killed the cat,” my mother told me when she got tired of trying to answer, but our cat was fine, so I kept asking.
One of the burning philosophical puzzles I remember asking about occurred to me as a four-year-old one New Year’s Day. My family lived in a farm community in eastern Washington State not too far from the Canadian border, and, typical for the middle of winter, we had several feet of snow on the ground.
So 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 and told me that’s just the way it is – never a very satisfying adult answer. After that I always wondered why the New Year didn’t fall on the first day of spring, where my four-year-old mind insisted it logically and rightfully belonged.
A decade later, in high school, I first heard about the Baha’i Faith.
The Baha’i teachings intrigued me, so I investigated by going to Baha’i meetings, reading, and trying to deepen my knowledge. What I learned made imminent sense to me – especially Baha’u’llah’s principles of the oneness of humanity, the essential unity of all Faiths, and the agreement of science and religion. When most of my questions were answered, I felt 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 Robert 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, still thinking about my big question. I didn’t completely understand why this small detail seemed so important to me. Maybe it had something to do with my childhood, and the rigid Protestant tradition I inherited. The Baha’i principle of the independent investigation of the truth was definitely discouraged in our family’s church. I had been taught to just accept and believe what I was told by the minister. That didn’t work for me, which had led me to my spiritual search.
“So when is the Baha’i New Year?” I asked Bob.
“Ah!” Bob said, “It’s called Naw-Ruz – which just means “new year” in Persian. It always occurs on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.”
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 understood, but he explained further. “Just about every faith celebrates that springtime renewal of life in some way. But of course the vernal equinox is the first day of autumn in the southern half 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 – of the appearance of the messengers, the prophets, the manifestations of the Creator.”
Then Bob went to his extensive Baha’i library, pulled out a book, and read me this quote about Naw-Ruz from a talk Abdu’l-Baha gave in Paris on April 21, 1913:
I am extremely glad to see you on this Naw-Ruz occasion. This day is considered holy by the Persians. … 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. Today the sun appears on the horizon of the North Pole. Today the sun rises and sets at the equator and the two hemispheres are equally illumined. This sacred day, when the sun illumines equally the whole earth, is called the equinox, and the equinox is the symbol of the Manifestation of God. The Sun of Truth rises on the horizon of Divine Mercy and sends forth its rays. This day is consecrated to commemorate it. It is the beginning of 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 shoot, 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 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.
My questions, even the one that I kept asking myself since I was a child, had been answered. The next day I became a Baha’i.
Happy Naw-Ruz, everyone.