The Ayyám-i-Há Shopping Season?
Everyone knows what Christmas is, but tell people that there are only twenty-one shopping days until Ayyám-i-Há and you'll likely get blank stares. Unless, of course, the people you're talking to are Bahá'ís. Ayyám-i-Há is the Bahá'í gift-giving season, just as Christmas is the Christian gift-giving season. But in spite of that similarity, the two holidays have some important differences.
One difference is their origin. Christmas, of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus, although nobody knows the date of His birth. Ayyám-i-Há doesn't celebrate any historical event. Bahá'u'lláh was born on November 12, 1817 and the Báb on October 20, 1819. Bahá'ís celebrate these as Holy Days. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's birth is celebrated on the Day of the Covenant (November 26) because He was born on the same day that the Báb declared His mission (May 23, 1844), also a Holy Day. 'Abdu'l-Bahá refused to permit the celebration of His own birth on that day.
Rather, Ayyám-i-Há exists because of the details of the Bahá'í calendar. The Bahá'í calendar is a solar calendar (365 days in a year, 366 in leap years) consisting of nineteen months each containing nineteen days. This leaves four days (five in leap years) as intercalary days, days that do not belong to any month. These are Ayyám-i-Há. So a second difference is that while Christmas is only one day (or twelve if you care to celebrate the entire period from Christmas to Epiphany), Ayyám-i-Há is four or five days in length. This year it will be five.
A third difference lies in the way the two holidays are celebrated. Christmas in the present day comes complete with cultural and family traditions, but the Bahá'í community has had very little time to develop traditions. Indeed, Shoghi Effendi and later the Universal House of Justice have tended to discourage emphasis on traditions at this time, perhaps to prevent too much influence creeping in from existing ways of life. The Bahá'í Faith aims to revolutionize every aspect of human existence. Perhaps new traditions will develop once it has had a chance to effect significant change in the world.
In any case, for the moment Bahá'ís can turn to their Holy Writings and the guidance provided by the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice when planning their Ayyám-i-Há activities. Foremost must certainly be Bahá'u'lláh's own instructions in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:
Let the days in excess of the months be placed before the month of fasting. We have ordained that these, amid all days and nights, shall be the manifestations of the letter Há, and thus they have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months. It behoveth the people of Bahá, 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.
"The letter 'Há' has been given several spiritual meanings in the Holy Writings, among which is as a symbol of the Essence of God.
(Note #28, p. 178)
Thus Ayyám-i-Há is a time of gift-giving, charity, and celebration. However, it is not the mad rush that the Christmas season has become, in which too often greed rules and stress levels climb to all-time highs. Gifts should be inexpensive and the joy should be more in the fellowship and the giving than in the receiving. At our house, Kathy and I have evolved a tradition of our own in this regard. We give our children and each other one gift for each day of the season. We feel this strikes a nice balance.
Oh yes, one other difference. As a bonus, Bahá'ís get to take advantage of after-Christmas sales!
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