MONDAY, MARCH 21: Many ancient traditions are alive and well in diverse forms today—and that’s certainly true of the ancient Persian New Year, which becomes Norouz or Naw Ruz in various cultures that still reflect Persian customs of marking spring. In fact, there’s some speculation that the timing of Purim may be related to that Persian spring cycle, as well. We’re not alone in making these connections. Wikipedia also has an overview that combines Norouz and Naw Ruz. (You may enjoy browsing our other Equinox, Ostara, Purim and spring-related stories via links on the right side of the Festivals & Holidays page.)
Zoroastrian Norouz (or Nowruz, spellings vary)
It’s the beginning of a new year for Zoroastrians today; Nowruz, literally “New Day,” always occurs around the vernal equinox and promises new life in the coming spring season. Culturally, Nowruz is observed by Iranians, Afghan people and in select areas around the world; the joyous festival is rooted in the ancient Zoroastrian religion. (Learn more at Heritage Institute.) Sometimes considered the holiest day of all, Nowruz was suggested by Zoroaster himself—the founder of Zoroastrianism—and was recognized last year by the UN General Assembly as the International Day of Nowruz. Some countries marked Nowruz yesterday, at the equinox, but most Zoroastrians will celebrate today. (Check out a Nowruz video at PBS.)
Nowruz as it is known today has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years, and the extensive activities still last for almost two weeks. (Persia.org has more.) Following an extensive spring cleaning process that lasts for several weeks leading up to Nowruz, families dress in new clothes today and begin visiting relatives and friends; it’s common belief that one’s behavior on Nowruz affects that person’s fate in the new year. (Wikipedia has details.) In most households, a sacred Haft Sin table setting is set up to represent the seven elements of life and the seven elements of Nowruz, among other things. Zoroastrian belief has it that the moment when the life cycle started in this world was the first Nowruz.
Around the world, Zoroastrians have been fearing for their numbers in recent years. Leaders are beginning to wonder just how few devotees will be celebrating Nowruz in the future, because Zoroastrians continue to forbid interfaith marriages. In response, groups like the Zoroastrian Youth for the New Generation have been attempting innovative measures that include a speed dating service in Mumbai. (Read the article in Indian Express.)
Baha’is May Spell it Naw Ruz
Baha’is are forbidden to work today, as they mark the first day of a new year on Naw Ruz. Since the two most prominent figures of the Baha’i faith—the Bab and Baha’u’llah—were both Persian, devotees have celebrated on the Persian New Year ever since. The first day of the New Year is known as “the Day of God.” (Baha’i Library Online has more.) Baha’i days officially begin at sunset, though, so Naw Ruz dinner parties and dances began last night; still, festivities will continue into today and Baha’is worldwide will be spending the day praying, feasting and giving thanks for this holy day. (Planet Baha’i has an insightful article.)
Baha’is may follow in the tradition of observing the Persian New Year, but they have prepared for the day quite differently. As the Baha’i calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days (with a small period of Intercalary Days), the entire month leading up to Naw-Ruz is spent in fasting. (Wikipedia has details.) After reminding themselves that they can overcome their material desires, Baha’is often begin Naw-Ruz with a feast at sunset. At present, Naw-Ruz is fixed as March 21 for Baha’is living outside of the Middle East; but since the Baha’i day begins at sunset, the 2011 Baha’i day that includes the equinox is also March 21.
Naw-Ruz traditions vary widely, and can range from gift-giving, dancing and potluck dinners to prayers and holy readings. Baha’is are acutely aware of the fact that several religions celebrate on or around the vernal equinox, and in accordance with their religious tenets, embrace that fact. It was Baha’u’llah’s son who explained the equinox as a symbol of the many Manifestations of God: just as Jesus, Muhammad and the Bab all spread messages that were “like a spiritual springtime,” Naw-Ruz can celebrate these collective messages.
(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.)