Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. It typically falls around the end of February and beginning of March and it is either four or five days long.
Ridvan, also known as the Most Great Festival, celebrates Baha’u’llah’s time in the garden of Ridvan on the outskirts of Baghdad in 1863 where He publicly declared His station as a Manifestation of God. The Ridvan Festival is 12 days long and is also the time of year where Baha’is elect their local and national governing bodies, and every five years, the international governing body for the worldwide Baha’i community.
Every year Baha’is from all over the world and of all cultural backgrounds celebrate Naw-Ruz, the beginning of a new year in the Baha’i Calendar. Naw Ruz marks the end of the 19-day Baha’i Fast, which is a period of reflection and profound spiritual reinvigoration. Naw-Ruz is a celebration of a “spiritual springtime” that symbolizes both individual renewal and mankind’s revitalization.
Every year, as Baha’is, we gather for eleven holy days including the festive celebratory days like Naw Ruz and Ridvan, as well as the more commemorative days that mark the Ascension of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. And like everything in the Baha’i Faith, hosting these gatherings is something that is open to one and all.
The first time I hosted a holy day, I wasn’t totally sure what to do. There were twenty people attending and, beyond gathering some prayers, I didn’t know what else could go into a holy day celebration. Since then I’ve been compiling ideas so that next time I’ll be ready!
Listed below are sixteen ideas for your next holy day event listed below. If you have some suggestions of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
1. Run a Drum Circle
A drum circle is a fun way to bring a community together. It simply entails getting everyone some sort of percussion instrument, setting a steady beat and sharing rhythm! If you have access to them, African Djembe drums will give you a real throbbing beat, but you can make do with all sorts of make-shift percussion. If you have someone with a good sense of rhythm to lead the circle, this can work well. A simple introductory activity is to have the leader tap out a beat and then have the other participants ‘reply’ with the same beat.
Drum circles are ideal for celebratory holy days where you want everyone to be excited and enthusiastic. Recently, in my community, we ran a drum circle with rented Djembe drums from a local drum shop. We actually used the circle during our community planning night to get everyone pumped up.
2. Show an Inspirational Video
People love watching things, so showing a short video can be a great way to tie entertainment and a message together. It doesn’t need to be a Baha’i video either, you just need something that ties into the theme of the holy day and makes a point or inspires your community. For example, for the Day of the Covenant, you could choose a clip from your favourite movie that illustrates certitude and steadfastness!
Just make sure the video isn’t too long, and is appropriate for your message. You’ll want to tie it into a larger program as well (maybe just after devotions) or as part of a story or talk.
Or if you want to take this idea further, you could make your next holy day include a movie night complete with popcorn and drinks. Of course you’ll need more of a program beforehand, and the movie needs to fit somehow, but you can definitely make this work.
3. Play a Slideshow during Readings
If you have readings organized that are particularly suited to a story telling atmosphere, you can create a Powerpoint slideshow that sets an appropriate backdrop. For instance, one year for the Bab’s declaration, my community had a slideshow of Persian-themed imagery to give the community the feeling of being in historic Iran.
You can find great photos on the web from places like Flickr, iStockPhoto and of course through Google Image Search. Keep in mind that if this is a fairly public event that you should consider the copyright of the images you are borrowing, and in those cases sites like iStockPhoto where you purchase images might be more appropriate. Use your best judgement.
4. Run a Trivia Contest
Getting the community involved in activities is a good way to make sure everyone is fully engaged (read: awake) at your holy day. A trivia contest is a fun way to tie learning with a healthy sense of competition.
For a small community, a nice version of the trivia contest is to put everyone into two groups with each group making up a question for the opposing group, where the question is related to the holy day. So, for instance, if it’s Baha’u’llah’s birthday, all questions must be related to Baha’u’llah’s life. This version will get everyone interacting both in answering questions and trying to think of obscure bits of knowledge they might have on the subject.
5. Organize a ‘Kris Kringle’ style Gift Exchange
For holy days where gifts might be appropriate, such as Ayyam-i-ha, Naw Ruz and the Birthday holy days, you could organize a budgeted gift exchange. Everyone coming brings a gift under a certain preset dollar amount, and as organizer you bring a few extra in case anyone forgets or can’t afford anything. Then, using some sort of random selection, participants exchange gifts.
Be careful to make sure everyone feels included in this activity, as there is nothing more awkward than not having a gift to give! Make sure everyone knows beforehand and that you have a supply of extras.
Craft activities like Origami can be really fun. With the right atmosphere and some preplanning, craft can work in a holy day setting. For instance, you could provide everyone with origami paper at a Nawruz celebration and then demonstrate how to make a simple origami flower to represent new life.
Other types of craft activity can work as well. Just tailor the activity to your community and to the holy day you are observing!
7. Tell Stories
The Baha’i Faith is full of great stories, ranging from the Dawnbreakers and early history of the Faith, through to stories about Abdu’l-Baha, the Guardian and the Hands of the Cause. If you have someone in the community who is a great orator and story teller, then ask them to read a particularly interesting, exciting or motivational story or stories.
The key to ensuring this is successful is choosing the stories well, making sure they aren’t too long and selecting readers who can bring the stories to life. Executed well, stories can be really great listening. But if you don’t put much effort in, it may feel more like part of your prayers and readings.
You don’t always have control over the venue of your holy day but if you do, then turning the place into something special can set a great tone for the event. I once attended an event held in a park where the organizers had laid small candles all the way down the path to where the community was and had a large fire going with marshmallows and songs. It was a really beautiful evening and the light from the candles and fire made it feel very special.
Even if the holy day is at your home, you can still do amazing things with the use of light, decoration, ambient music, scent and some props, so get inventive!
9. Invite a Speaker
A great speaker can be informative, engaging and inspirational. Asking someone who is great at presenting to address your community on a topic that relates to the holy day can be a good centrepiece for your event. And remember, the speakers don’t need to be Baha’i either. For instance, you could invite a professor or minister from another religion to come and address the community and engage your Baha’i community with the wider community.
10. Run a Guided Meditation before Prayer
Meditation is gaining in popularity around the world! In fact, a 2007 US government study found that close to 10% of adults had practiced meditation in the last 12 months! Not only is it great for putting your community into the right frame of mind for a really deep prayer session, it’s also been shown to stimulate brain activity, reduce stress and provide all sorts of health benefits.
A guided meditation requires someone to verbally guide the participants through a meditation, usually helping them to visualize things to help them achieve a relaxed state. If you aren’t confident, you can purchase and play audio CDs that will do the job for you!
11. Have a Dress-Theme
For a celebratory holy day, give a dress theme to attendees and your community can enjoy seeing how each other adopted the theme. If you have a really game community, this can be full blown costume dress up (think Baha’i Halloween). For most communities, a simple theme such as one based on a colour will be enough to make your holy day stand out, particularly if it’s used as part of a larger theme for the day.
12. Run some Ice-breaker Games
Ice-breaker games are fantastic for getting everyone to loosen up and into the right mood. They work best for medium-sized groups with a community is young or young at heart! There are loads of great games out there and a bit of hunting over Google should get you lots of ideas if you don’t know any already.
If you are running a few games, make sure you start with the simplest first. Also it’s good to get a few co-conspirators planted in the group to help get the games going, especially if you have a community who might be a little shy. If you have less mobile members of the community or a small area, you could opt for games which are more verbal. Conversely, if you have a big space you could try more physical games.
Live music or, if you can get it, theatre is fantastic for creating atmosphere, entertaining the community, and getting a message across. If you have some musical members of the community or a study circle or children’s group who don’t mind putting together a skit or play, then this is a fantastic addition to any holy day event.
If you are organizing a particularly important holy day event you might want to organize professionals, but for smaller groups, it’s often more fun if everyone is a little amateur! If you can manage it, it’s also really great to get everyone in the community involved in the performance, even if it’s just clapping along to the music.
14. Have Your Holy Day Outdoors
The vast majority of holy days are held indoors in a hall but it’s really lovely to get out and about for a change of scene. For the more festive holy days, going to a park is great for games, barbeques and picnics. For more contemplative holy days you could try going out at dawn or sunset to a quiet outdoor location to pray. Years ago, a community I was in organized devotions on a cliff overlooking the ocean at sunrise followed by brunch at a cafe nearby. It was a little hard to get up for, but well worth it!
15. Theme your Decoration, Food and Drinks
Giving your holy day a theme and then following through with decorations, food and drinks to match is a pretty cool way to give the occasion some memorable atmosphere. You can opt for a theme that matches the holy day somehow e.g. ‘Garden’ for Ridvan. Alternatively, just run with a theme that fits your community somehow, such as a seasonal theme (e.g. ‘Winter’) or a situational theme (e.g. ‘High Tea’).
For one of the two ‘Birth of ..’ holy days, a great idea for a community with kids is to actually have a Birthday Cake. This is a nice way to get kids involved and understanding a little more about what the holy day is all about. Taken a little further you can theme the whole holy day as a birthday!
16. Play (Appropriate) Baha’i Charades
The game of charades where players have to guess a word or phrase based on someone acting it out makes a great game for livening up a holy day. The game can be Baha’i themed but it’s best to prep some words and phrases beforehand to make sure you stick to appropriate things to act out! Some examples for ideas are “Blessed is the Spot”, “Reflection Meeting”, “Naw Ruz”, “Fireside”, “Chairperson” and so on.
Add Your Ideas to the Comments
What ideas have you had, tried or seen done at a holy day? Share them in the comments!
Hi I’m Collis! I live in Darwin, in the Northern Territory. I’m a Baha’i, designer, entrepreneur, climate tech angel investor, and engaged in philanthropy to support First Nations young people in Australia. I've been working on Baha'i Blog since its inception in 2011!