This is the first in a new Berkeleyside ‘Celebrations’ series, offering a visual taste of cultural and religious festivities that take place in Berkeley. 

In North Berkeley, the Bahá’ís gather on the eve of the spring equinox to break their 19-day fast and usher in a new year in accordance with their Badí’ calendar. Located in a home donated by a late Bahá’í member, the local group precede their feast with a devotional and follow their meal with games and an Iranian dance. With this turning of the season, the intention is to reinvigorate individuals’ spiritual practices and to offer a reminder of the role everyone plays in the wellbeing of others.

The Bahá’í faith was established in 1852, embracing the prophets and teachers of other religions that came before. In conjunction with educators like Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, the Bahá’ís also worship the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, two Persian prophets who were prosecuted for laying the groundwork for this new, non-proselytizing religion.

Today, there are more than 5 million Bahá’ís, a population considered one of the most geographically diverse religions in the world, second to Christianity.

While the faith has roots in Iran, member Erin Murphy-Graham says every Bahá’í community grows and shifts naturally to reflect the place where it establishes itself. Rituals and interpretations of sacred texts are meant to change.

In Berkeley, for example, Persian rice is served alongside lasagna, and new converts sing together with Iranian refugees and Eritrean immigrants. What is universal, however, is a dedication to gender equality, the elimination of extreme poverty and wealth, and the agreement between religion and science.

Candles and fresh flowers decorate the house. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
An illustration of Abdu’l Baha, eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, hangs in their library. Abdu’l Baha visited Berkeley in 1912. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Mateo Majidi and visiting Bahá’í, Anis (last name unknown). Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Fresh and paper flowers adorn the entryway. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
The attendants break their fast with a potluck. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Food to break a fast. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Image of Abdu’l Baha, eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh. Abdu’l Baha visited Berkeley in 1912. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Congregants at the celebration. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Tsighereda Kiflemariam. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Know of a celebration that could be included in this series? Email, with subject heading Celebration.

Melati Citrawireja is a writer, photographer and curious thinker about the underbelly of places. She began contributing to Berkeleyside after a summer internship in 2015 and earned a BA in Development...