Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
Baha’is see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment, such as can be found in the children’s classes happening all around the world.
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.
As a child, there was always something magical in the anticipation of the days of Ayyam-i-Ha. Whilst each of the nineteen months of the Baha’i year reflects one of the attributes of God, these “Days of Ha”, that exist “outside of time”, signify the essence of God that transcends all of His attributes, and there is truly something mysterious and mystical about these special days.
Growing up in Malawi, these were the days where we would make peanut butter and jam sandwiches with my mother, and take them to the local hospital. We would visit friends that were sick and perform small acts of service in honor of loved ones who had passed away. We would make tiny gifts for each other, numbering them and hiding them away, only to be opened on each of the consecutive days. And we would bring out our record (yes, the kind that goes on a record player!) of Hand of the Cause of God, William Sears and sing our hearts out in the living room, “dancing around the ring all holding hands”, with giddy joy.
Many years have passed since my childhood anticipation of Ayyam-i-Ha, but this year, I get to spend some of these special days with these (little and very amazing) people who make my heart want to explode with love, and who are just as excited as I was when I was their age about this approaching festival of love, compassion, friendship and generosity.
Meet Kayla (aged seven), Shayan (Five), Jaleh (Three) and Alayna (nearly – and this part is very important! – One).
As there are no rituals or formal traditions associated with the celebration of Ayyam-i-Ha, each family is free to create their own ways of spending these special days. Excitement has been building for months in this household and conversations held around giving and generosity are numerous.
Baha’u’llah says that: “To give and be generous are attributes of Mine” 1, and I am learning that there is a selfless delight that children feel in giving that is far more powerful than in receiving. I witness this in the building excitement and joy that is expressed in the cards and gifts that are made with painstaking love and intense concentration; in the joyful countdown (on a daily basis!) of the days left to the first day of Ayyam-i-Ha; and in the corners of the house where I keep finding drawings and little wrapped homemade gifts, childish scrawls signifying which sibling will be the recipient. One carefully wrapped gift is merely labeled: “LOVE”!
After experiencing the daily question of: “How many days now until Ayyam-i-Ha?” (“Umm…3?”), I decided to sit with Kayla and Shayan and Jaleh and talk with them a little about Ayyam-i-Ha and hear what they had to say. This was part of the conversation that followed:
Me: So…in a few weeks we are going to be celebrating something amazing! It starts with…”A”!
Jaleh: Alayna’s birthday!
Me: Well…yes…that too…but this is a holiday…something we have all been looking forward to for months now and…
Kayla & Shayan: Ayyam-i-Ha!!
It behoveth 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.
Me: So can you guys tell me what Ayyam-i-Ha is about?
Kayla: Yes, but it’s also when we do service for others and we are generous. And we help people who are sick…and also we are hospitable.
Kayla: Hos-pit-ABLE. We invite people, like our neighbors, to come and visit and we are kind to them.
Shayan: But also presents. Yes?
Me: Yes, presents too. Who do we try our best to be like during these days? Someone who was a perfect example for us?
Kayla: And Baha’u’llah too.
Shayan: And Jesus?
Me: Yes, all of them.
Shayan: And even Jesus’s mother and father?
Me: Yes, them too.
Me: So…does anyone know how many days we celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha for?
Me: You are both right!
Shayan: (Incredulously) How are we BOTH right?
(This is the part where I begin a lengthy and rather long-winded explanation about the number of days in the year, and the number of Baha’i months and the number of days per month. I then pull out a calculator and try to show the number of days missing and try to explain the meaning of “intercalary”. Kayla is politely trying her hardest to look interested, but Shayan and Jaleh are clearly distracted by something far more interesting than me. Time to change my approach.)
[these day of Ayyam-i-Ha] have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months…and when they end — these days of giving that precede the season of restraint — let them enter upon the Fast. Thus hath it been ordained by Him Who is the Lord of all mankind.
Me: So during Ayyam-i-Ha, we are also preparing ourselves for something very special that is going to happen afterwards. Does any one know what it is?
Shayan: Alayna’s birthday!!
Me: Well, yes, that is happening too, but this is something else. Something very special that we do for nineteen days…
Kayla: The Fast!
Me: Yes! And what is the Fast?
Kayla: It’s when we, well, those who are old, not us, don’t eat and drink from sunrise to sunset, and instead use that time to pray. But even though we don’t fast until we are older, we can still say prayers.
Me: You are totally right. And yes, you are still growing, so you don’t fast, but we can all say prayers during this time.
Praised be Thou, O my God, that Thou hast ordained Naw-Ruz as a festival unto those who have observed the Fast for love of Thee and abstained from all that is abhorrent unto thee.
Me: And then…what happens at the end of the Fast? What do we celebrate then? And no, it is not Alayna’s birthday.
Kayla: It’s Naw Ruz!
Shayan: But when are we going to have Alayna’s birthday?
(And the rest of our conversation is about our sweet Alayna’s first birthday. With the exception of the following question.)
Shayan: So how many days are left to Ayyam-i-Ha now?
Wherever you are in the world, whether with family or friends, I hope that these special days that symbolize “eternity, infinity, and the mystery and unknowable essence of God himself” 5, will be days of charity and good cheer, of friendship and love, and that you too, will find your hearts filled with “joy and exultation” 2 with which to “signify and praise His name” 3.
Yas is happiest when the sun is shining. After country-hopping across the globe for the last ten years, she lives (for now) in the most beautiful (and windiest) city in the world. She loves the power of the creative word and teaches literature and creative writing to teenagers. She also loves strawberries.