The warmth of a neighbourhood celebration

Posted: 2017/11/15

Friends during the bicentenary celebration in the Outremont neighbourhood of Montreal, Que.

A Montreal Bahá’í reflects on how hosting a neighbourhood celebration of the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh shifted her attitude regarding holy days celebrated at the local level.

During the final days preceding the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, as images of diverse celebrations around the world appeared online, I had a moment of doubt about organizing the celebration in my neighbourhood.

I live in Montreal, in a neighbourhood full of young families. We have a wonderful children’s class, but it has not expanded in some time. Although I know many families, involving them in our activities on a regular basis has been a challenge.

On the other hand, our Bahá’í community life has greatly intensified in the last few years. The number of people attending the Nineteen Day Feast has increased, our bonds of friendship have strengthened and our Holy Day celebrations have become more joyful and artistic.

I am not fond of large gatherings, so for the bicentenary I planned to hold a simple neighbourhood celebration in my living room. However, as the day approached, I began to worry that we might not be fittingly honouring the significance of the day. Should we have rented a hall? Planned it on a larger scale? Invited dozens more people? Organized a longer program that included viewing the film Light to the World?

I have three young children, and with the work this entails, I often feel overwhelmed. Nevertheless, when I saw the magnificence of the events taking place around the world, I questioned whether I should be doing more.

Then the day of the celebration came. The children were so excited. We started making apple pies at 7:30 a.m., the boys got out their best shirts and an hour later friends started arriving to prepare the space, install the stage for the puppet show, and organize the reception. Some brought roses, one took charge of the meal in honour of a dear friend who had recently passed away, while yet another brought drinks. The children’s class participants had made a poster on which they glued 200 hearts, which was displayed prominently by the door.

Children at the celebration carry out an art activity.

Our living room gradually filled with children, adults, neighbours and friends. The diversity of ages, origins and religious backgrounds represented illuminated the space. I fretted that we did not have enough chairs. Why had we not held it at a friend’s much larger house? Would people be comfortable?

Then the prayers began. A beautiful puppet show dramatizing the story of the dream of Bahá’u’lláh’s father captivated the children and adults alike. Following the show, the children happily engaged in a drawing activity while the adults spoke more in depth about the coming of Bahá’u’lláh and the significance of His teachings for humanity.

A puppet show depicting the dream of Bahá’u’lláh’s father.

Approximately 50 people gathered in our home to celebrate Bahá’u’lláh that day. I had difficulty containing the emotions I felt, and I don’t think I was the only one.

The children soon returned to sing “We Are Drops” and “So Powerful is the Light of Unity” with such enthusiasm that they personified the words they sang. And just as they finished their presentation, a beautiful Persian meal was served to the great delight of our guests.

I could not have dreamed of a more dignified celebration of Bahá’u’lláh and what He has brought to my life, my marriage and my family. It felt like the spirit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was present and that He was delighted at the sight of the friends assembled in unity and happiness through the power of the Faith. I have never experienced such a celebration. I really felt that the spirit was different from any other I have attended. Were we moved by the reports of other celebrations around the world? Was there something different in the air?

It was a beautiful way for me to present the Faith directly to my friends, to share with them the love of Bahá’u’lláh and to rekindle my desire to place service at the centre of our lives. In my neighbourhood we organized a celebration that mirrored the warm, family-oriented and open spirit of our community, and this was the key to its success.

– Justine Rastello-Gralepois