A New Year Begins
In past years, my wife has sometimes bought multifaith calendars to hang on our library wall. If you look at such a calendar, you'll probably notice the wide variety of religious observences that fall on March 20th and 21st. The Spring equinox has always held a special significance for cultures and religions around the world, a fact made plain by this clustering of celebrations and commemorations. Bahá'ís, too, have a Holy Day at this time of year. We celebrate Naw-Rúz, New Year's Day, starting at sunset on March 20th. The new year will be 165 B. E. (Bahá'í Era).
Naw-Rúz did not originate with the Bahá'í Faith but is an ancient Persian celebration that also marks the start of the Zoroastrian year and is celebrated as the day on which Zoroaster received His revelation from God. Yet the day did not originate with Zoroaster, either. Tradition has it as old as 15,000 years, predating the last ice age! Although it was never a Moslem festival, the celebration of Naw-Rúz continued in Persia even after that country came under Moslem rule, and in an article on the subject Dr. John Walbridge has noted,
Shi'i traditions attributed to the Imams endorsed the observance of Naw-Rúz, which was, it was said, the day of many events of great religious significance, among them God's first covenant with mankind, the first rising of the sun, the grounding of Noah's ark on Ararat, Gabriel's first appearance to Muhammad, the destruction of the idols in the Ka'bih by 'Alí, Muhammad's appointment of 'Ali as His successor, the appearance of the Qa'im, and the final triumph of the Qa'im over the Antichrist. Such traditions echoed similar accounts of Naw-Rúz found in Zoroastrian literature.
The reason the Bahá'í year starts on this day is that both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh were Persian. The Badi calendar, instituted by the Báb and later endorsed by Bahá'u'lláh for use by His followers, continues the use of Naw-Rúz as the first day of the year, makes it a Holy Day and associates it with the Most Great Name.
Although there are no particular Bahá'í customs associated with Naw-Rúz at this time, many Iranian Bahá'ís maintain the old custom of preparing a "Naw-Rúz table" which is spread with a white cloth and set with seven plates or bowls containing items beginning (in Farsi) with the letter "S" or "SH". There can be some variation in these items, but they all have symbolic meanings such as peace, prosperity, growth, and so forth. There may also be other items on the table, likewise having symbolic meanings. The traditional Naw-Rúz has been described as akin to the secular side of Easter inasmuch as it celebrates the arrival of Spring, but it is also a form of thanksgiving celebration.
Here in the west, Naw-Rúz is typically celebrated with a party that ends the Fast. No set forms or traditions have emerged as yet, largely because at this stage of the game it's too early to either expect or allow traditions to take root. (Shoghi Effendi discouraged the development of traditions at this time.) But another factor may be that as a community we haven't completely figured out this particular day. After all, as the only one of the nine Holy Days on which work must be suspended that is not associated with an event in either the life of the Báb or Bahá'u'lláh, it has a unique position. Yet its religious import can't be denied. Bahá'u'lláh associated it with the Most Great Name, His own name. The first month of the year is named Bahá and the first day of each month is also named Bahá. Thus, although there are nineteen days in the month of Bahá, and in the course of a year there are also nineteen days named Bahá, Naw-Rúz is the only day which bears the name Bahá twice.
So however we celebrate it, Naw-Rúz remains as it has been for thousands of years, a day of meaning and portent.
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