Three years ago in February, our family was united after an arduous adoption journey. We arrived a family of four to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the first day of Ayyam-i-Ha and left a complete family of six. That year, the days of this festival were marked with exceptional joy, fellowship and opportunities for service; and as a family, we see the days of Ayyam-i-Ha as a gift and opportunity each year to remember how thankful we are for one another, for our wonderful Faith, our community and the opportunity to be of service wherever we are.
Our children spent their very first moments together as siblings making bracelets out of beads and pipe cleaners. Mostly silently, they collaborated in their first act of service: handing each other colorful plastic beads, stringing them and tucking the ends in neatly before placing them in a large basket. The next day, this basket was brought to the orphanage where so many children were still awaiting the arrival of their forever families, and our children handed out the bracelets for Ayyam-i-Ha. The Baha’is of Kinshasa had been teaching children’s classes to these children for nearly two years, so they all knew Baha’i songs and prayers. Together we sang, danced, drummed and prayed… it was a truly remarkable and memorable celebration.
Born and raised in a Baha’i family, I remember Ayyam-i-Ha as a time when we decorated our home and hosted a lively celebration each year. My siblings and I received small gifts related to our interests each day of Ayyam-i-Ha and made cards and gifts for our friends and family. It was joyous and I’m so grateful to my parents for creating memories wrapped in warmth and love. Now my own family talks about Ayyam-i-Ha as including three elements in order of importance: service, fellowship and gift giving. This is based on our personal understanding of the following words of Baha’u’llah:
Let the days in excess of the months be placed before the month of fasting. We have ordained that these, amid all nights and days, shall be the manifestations of the letter Ha, and thus they have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months. It behooveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name; and when they end—these days of giving that precede the season of restraint—let them enter upon the Fast.1
There are ways to get involved in the charitable efforts in every community in the world and our family likes to see Ayyam-i-Ha as an invitation to familiarize ourselves with the services others in our wider community are offering. We try to align our efforts to support them not only during the days of Ayyam-i-Ha but all year long. For example, there is a garden where we live that provides fresh food for our local food pantry. At certain times of the year anyone can volunteer to help with planting, tending the fields and reaping the harvest. Members of our Baha’i community volunteer to shuttle the vegetables to the food pantry and help with the food distribution as well. Every year during the period of Ayyam-i-Ha the organization that runs the farm seeks volunteers to help with sap collection to make maple syrup – a fun and useful service. As a family we also support Centre Emmanuel, our family’s former orphanage in DR Congo, where Baha’is are still involved in meeting the educational and spiritual needs of the children. This year, we plan to host an art show in our home, selling pieces of art we’ve created in order to raise funds for the orphanage. There are so many ways for Baha’is to provide, during the period of Ayyam-i-Ha, “good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy…” I am reminded of these words of Abdu’l-Baha:
Be ye confident and steadfast; your services are confirmed by the powers of heaven, for your intentions are lofty, your purposes pure and worthy. God is the helper of those souls whose aim is to serve humanity and whose efforts and endeavours are devoted to the good and betterment of all mankind.2
Celebrating Ayyam-i-Ha isn’t only for Baha’is – in fact, our community hosts a celebration focused on service and fellowship for everyone! At this celebration, stations are arranged so that guests can participate in service activities. These might include assembling bags of food for the local food pantry, collecting donations of clothing and supplies for local refugees, decorating cookies for our local police and firemen, and making get well cards for patients at a local hospital. We also enjoy food together, say prayers, sing songs and enjoy each other’s company.
I want you to be happy, to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you.3
I feel that gifts during Ayyam-i-Ha are meant to bring out qualities we are each working to develop all year long: generosity, thoughtfulness, appreciation, kindness and love.
By thinking about each other and offering something generous, whether it’s a handmade gift, a small token of love or the gift of time, a shared experience, a thoughtful card or even a meal, we demonstrate to others how much they mean to us. Our family makes cookies each year, puts them in nice bags and buys a bouquet of flowers. We set aside one afternoon during Ayyam-i-Ha to deliver these treats to each Baha’i home in our community and to wish everyone a Happy Ayyam-i-Ha. It takes about an hour so we listen to the Ayyam-i-Ha recording with William Sears along our route. It’s a simple but meaningful tradition for us and we love to see the reactions of our friends, or imagine the surprise when they find the treat on their doorstep.
I truly find the creative liberty we are given to celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha in our own way really fun and inspiring. This celebration looks different around the world, community to community, family to family. But the nature of Ayyam-i-Ha according to the Writings is one of joyous celebration, praise and generous service.
Each year, our expression of service, fellowship and gift giving looks different depending on the circumstances of our family; where we are and the community that surrounds us. This time holds a special place in our family’s heart and I look forward each year to reflecting on the gifts Baha’u’llah has offered us and meeting new friends during this time of celebration.
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts.4