Analysis: New Year – Naw Ruz – but not as I know it

Sophie Gregory, from the UK Baha’i Office of Public Affairs, describes how coronavirus means the Baha’i New Year ‘Naw Ruz’ is being celebrated online, but that resilience and hope, as people offer support, is a glimpse of future cooperation.

Usually, on the 19th of March, I am getting ready to celebrate Naw Ruz, Bahá’í new year. It’s a time of sharing prayers, songs and stories; eating and laughing together and talking about what we are aiming to achieve in the coming year.

This year, however, it’s different. Given the outbreak of Covid-19, and the importance of protecting and supporting the vulnerable, Bahá’í communities across the UK, including mine, are changing the way we celebrate the new year.

Many celebrations are being moved online. On Sunday, I have a prayer and meditation meeting over Skype with my local community; a friend of mine has set up a Whatsapp group with over 80 members where people will volunteer to share prayers over a regular Zoom call (pictured); another friend is currently grappling with games children could play over Skype during their community’s digital festivity.

It’s not just new year’s celebrations we have to be creative with. Classes for children that explore spiritual qualities like generosity and kindness are being shared via Whatsapp, groups for 11-15 year olds are being conducted via Skype, and my latest book group, where we are studying a Bahá’í text, was done from the comfort of my living room with a pair of headphones.

I think we all miss being able to chat with the community in person. Children are definitely missing being able to play with their friends. And there is an awkwardness we are yet to overcome in our digital calls (Do I turn on my video? Do I mute my mic? Did I just cut someone off as they were beginning to speak?). But it’s new and we are learning, as is everyone else.

Though this Naw Ruz is going to be different, we’ll certainly be entering the year with a renewed consciousness of the pivot around which all of the teachings of the Bahá’í faith revolve: the oneness of humanity. If this virus has exposed anything to our global community, it is that every being on this planet is interdependent and interconnected, bringing oneness to the forefront of our minds.

For Bahá’ís, the underpinning principle is the belief that God lovingly created each and every soul as equal.  The Bahá’í writings establish that we all belong to one human family, each member offering different skills and capacities that together contribute to a world that is more than the sum of its parts.

It is the glimmerings of this cooperation that I see in the resilience and hope displayed across social media and my neighbourhood. Each new mutual aid group and each note offering help from neighbours that comes through my door suggests we are all doing the same thing: thinking of others as well as ourselves.  It is a timely reminder of our capacity to be of service to others.

It’s a new year for us, and we are in bizarre circumstances, but they will pass. What I hope doesn’t pass, however, is this connection to our local communities. Hopefully, we will soon move from using these connections to support each other in a crisis to using them to empower one another towards a more profound sense of our oneness.