On March 21st, millions of people across the world will take another step in moving to the rhythms of a new calendar. In Canada, some 35,000 will be celebrating the Baha’i New year, called “Naw-Ruz”, with their friends and neighbours.
Many cultures with Indo-European roots mark the Spring Equinox with ancient traditions associated with the celebration of this time. In the Baha’i calendar, Naw-Ruz marks the beginning of the year.
For Baha’is everywhere, Naw-Ruz is celebrated as a Holy Day on which work is suspended. In choosing the Spring Equinox as a pivot for His calendar, Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, gave the day a new spiritual significance, which His followers seek to understand and realize.
Intimately connected with Naw-Ruz is a preceding 19-day period of fasting and spiritual rejuvenation. Baha’is spend this month preparing themselves for a strong start to a New Year.
On the night of the 20th, and all day on the 21st, communities across Canada will host hundreds of Baha’i Naw-Ruz celebrations. For some, festivities and community service projects in honour of this day may spill out into the week, as groups small and large strive to find a way to celebrate the rhythms of one calendar syncopated with another. These celebrations often reflect aspects of local culture, with celebrations taking on patterns and approaches that differ from place to place.
In one Toronto neighbourhood, residents in adjacent buildings, Emily Rushdy and Matt Kianfar, are part of a small group of young families organizing a Naw-Ruz celebration for their neighbourhood. They plan to use their apartment’s party-room and have invited friends and acquaintances from their complex that they have met through the year to join in the festivities.
“We love hosting these Holy Day celebrations,” said Rushdy, a 30-year-old mother of two, “there aren’t any occasions right now where neighbours really celebrate together in our complex. So, these events are special for us and our acquaintances because they’re also this rare chance for all of us that are neighbours here to become closer friends.”
“I’m really looking forward to celebrating Naw-Ruz in our neighbourhood” said Kianfar, a 29-year-old nurse, “because I think it helps us look outside of our religious community and meet the people around us”.
While they mentioned their aim to create a warm and simple celebration – a pot-luck dinner, prayers and readings for the occasion, music, and perhaps, a dance – they hope that the open, family-friendly nature of the event will make the celebration an occasion to share a bit of joy right where they live.
Kianfar, who recently returned to Toronto, and happened to move into a building nearby Mrs. Rushdy and a handful of other Baha’i families, expressed his enthusiasm for their plans.
“When I think about a New Year, it’s something that’s revitalizing, and being able to see more people revitalizes the spirit in a community; it helps reinvigorate the community.”