Most Canadians welcome the arrival of March 21 because the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring. For Baha’is, the day has a deeper significance as Naw-Ruz — Baha’i New Year. This Naw-Ruz will see the start of the year 170 of the Baha’i calendar.
The day also signifies the end of the period of fasting for Baha’is aged 15 to 69. From sunrise to sunset March 2 to 20, Baha’is abstain from food and drink for the sake of spiritual regeneration and preparation for the year ahead. Those who are sick, travelling, engaged in heavy labour, and women who are pregnant or nursing are exempt from observing the Fast.
In addition to ushering in a new year, Naw-Ruz is a holy day observed by Baha’is around the world. There are no set traditions associated with Naw-Ruz, which leads to a variety of celebrations among the world’s diverse cultures that make up the Baha’i community — celebrations that lend their own distinct flavour to the festival.
Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims of Ottawa and her husband, Michael, were both raised in Baha’i families and the celebration of Naw-Ruz was part of their upbringing. Now they are striving to teach their young son the significance of Naw-Ruz. “While we’re reflecting on the past year and setting personal and spiritual goals for the next, we’re trying to create family traditions that will give our son a sense of love for Naw-Ruz and other holy days,” said Mrs. Farhoumand-Sims. “It’s a time to enjoy the company of family and friends, offer hospitality and look forward to warmer weather after a cold winter!”
As Baha’i holy days are open to everyone, friends of Baha’is often join in the celebration of Naw-Ruz. Katrina Fleming of Stony Plain, Alberta, attended her first Naw-Ruz thirteen years ago with her then-future husband, Jason, in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
When asked what she appreciated most about her first Naw-Ruz, Mrs. Fleming maintains that it was the open, welcoming atmosphere that was free of protocols and formalities. “It was a simple celebration and that’s something most people enjoy and understand. There were children, adults of all ages, and people of diverse ethnicities.”
Mrs. Fleming, who has been a Baha’i for two years, said that the only difference she’s noticed in Naw-Ruz celebrations over the years has been due to the size of the communities in which her family has lived. “Where I live now is very small and our Naw-Ruz celebrations usually have no more than eight people, so we don’t have so much of the ethnic diversity that comes with larger places like Edmonton and Fredericton. We say prayers, read some stories or readings…and of course we eat! Still, celebrating in a smaller community also has its advantages of easily feeling warm and familiar.”
Naw-Ruz, and all Baha’i holy days, are essentially commemorated with community gatherings for prayer, reflection, and fellowship, although the nature of the celebrations varies based on the circumstances of local communities.