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The members of the Bahá’í Faith celebrate their New Year (called “Naw Ruz”) today, March 21, but did you know that it’s the only holiday celebrated by more than one religious group?

Some people claim that Naw-Ruz dates as far back as 15,000 years — before the last ice age, while others claim that it was founded by Zoroaster. Today, the festival is celebrated in many countries that were territories of, or influenced by, the Persian Empire: Iran, Kurdistan, parts of the Middle East, as well as in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is also celebrated by Persians living in Pakistan, Zanzibar, Turkey, Iraq, Albania, northwestern China and parts of the Indian subcontinent. In Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban, Naw Ruz was banned until 2001 where it came back as popular as it was before the Taliban. It is also a holy day for Ismailis, Alawites, and Alevis (branches of the Shiite Moslem religion). The Jewish festival of Purim is probably adopted from the Persian New Year. Naw-Ruz is celebrated rather like the Christian Easter, with many symbols indicating spring and renewal.

Persians believe that Naw Ruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion. Moslems believe it’s a day in which many events of great religious significance took place. 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 holy Sanctuary at Mecca, 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-Ruz found in Zoroastrian literature. In the northern hemisphere Naw-Rúz marks the coming of spring.

In the Bahá’í Faith, the Báb called the first day of his new calendar “the Day of God”. The remaining eighteen days of the first month were associated with the eighteen Letters of the Living, hence the Báb’s apostles imagined a celebration that would last nineteen days.

Bahá’u’lláh, adopted the new calendar proposed by the Báb, and the use of Naw-Rúz as a festival for those who observed the fast. Naw-Rúz is one of nine Bahá’í holy days where work is to be suspended (the only one that is not is not associated with an event in the lives of either the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh).

If we are not happy and joyous at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look? This is the time for growing; the season for joyous gathering! Take the cup of the Testament in thy hand; leap and dance with ecstasy in the triumphal procession of the Covenant! Lay your confidence in the everlasting bounty, turn to the presence of the generous God; ask assistance from the Kingdom of Abha; seek confirmation from the Supreme World; turn thy vision to the horizon of eternal wealth; and pray for help from the Source of Mercy! (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 351)

As with all Bahá’í holy days, there are few fixed rules for observing Naw-Rúz. Bahá’ís all over the world celebrate it according to local custom.

During the time of the Báb, throughout the night of Naw-Ruz each believer was to recite 361 times the verse: “God beareth witness that there is no God but Him, the Ineffable, the Self-Subsistent”, and during the day: “God beareth witness that there is no God but Him, the Precious, the Beloved”.

Persians start preparing for Naw Ruz with a major spring-cleaning of their houses, the purchase of new clothes and flowers (hyacinths and the tulips are popular). They believe that whatever a person does on Naw Ruz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on that day, then the new year will be a good one. On the other hand, if there are fights and disagreements, the year will be a bad one.

The most joyful time for a Naw-Ruz celebration is at sunset on the last day of the Fast. It seems almost directed by Baha’u’llah that it should be this way:

O Pen of the Most High! Say: O people of the world! We have enjoined upon you fasting during a brief period, and at its close have designated for you Naw-Ruz as a feast. (Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 24)

`Abdu’l-Bahá, explained the significance of Naw-Rúz in terms of spring and the new life it brings. As the fast ended, he said, they could turn a new page in their lives, inspired to right action and spiritual excellence.

Soon the whole world, as in springtime, will change its garb. The turning and falling of the autumn leaves is past; the bleakness of the winter time is over. The new year hath appeared and the spiritual springtime is at hand. The black earth is becoming a verdant garden; the deserts and mountains are teeming with red flowers; from the borders of the wilderness the tall grasses are standing like advance guards before the cypress and jessamine trees; while the birds are singing among the rose branches like the angels in the highest heavens, announcing the glad-tidings of the approach of that spiritual spring, and the sweet music of their voices is causing the real essence of all things to move and quiver. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 351)

Here’s a part of the Naw Ruz tablet, which we can say today:

Praised be Thou, O my God, that Thou hast ordained Naw-Rúz as a festival unto those who have observed the fast for love of Thee and abstained from all that is abhorrent unto thee. Grant, O my Lord, that the fire of Thy love and the heat produced by the fast enjoined by Thee may inflame them in Thy Cause, and make them to be occupied with Thy praise and with remembrance of Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 67)

What’s your favorite Naw Ruz memory? Post your comment here: