A package arrived on my doorstep today. I discovered it at a moment when I was grumbling about work-related problems, but when I saw it, my mood immediately brightened. The package contained a gift, but not a gift for me. It was a gift from me, for my wife Kathy.
I can't tell you what it is, because she'll be reading this, too, and I won't be giving her the gift until next weekend. It's an Ayyám-i-Há gift, you see, and Ayyám-i-Há is celebrated from February 26th through March 1st each year. (See "Related Resources" for a pair of articles I wrote last year explaining what Ayyám-i-Há is.) Right now we have a pile of wrapped presents sitting in Kathy's sewing room, all waiting for next weekend. Some of them are even for me! But the joy of Ayyám-i-Há is not in the getting, it's in the giving and the sharing.
In our family, we traditionally give one gift to each person for each day of the season, which means four in most years and five in leap years. This year we upped the ante to five anyway, just because. ;-) We also invite our children's closest friends over to share in the festivities, and distribute presents to them, too. Ayyám-i-Há is a family time, just like Christmas, but as with that holiday "family" takes on an extended meaning. Good friends are family, too, aren't they?
Bahá'í communities typically host Ayyám-i-Há festivities, too, throwing parties where good food, good fellowship, and yes, even presents abound. Some communities hold gift exchanges similar to those held by many groups around Christmas time. In our community, the adults usually sit back and watch the children open presents given them by the Local Spiritual Assembly. More general gift exchanges have been held in some years and not in others. In either case, "family" is extended a bit farther by these celebrations. After all, our brothers and sisters in faith are family, too, aren't they?
Ayyám-i-Há, however, is more than just a time for celebrating with those we know. It is also a time for special acts of charity, for reaching out to those in need and demonstrating God's love for them. Both as individuals and as communities, Bahá'ís around the world look for ways to help those less fortunate than themselves, just as Christians do at Christmas and many people in the U.S. do at Thanksgiving. The poor in our midst are our family, too, aren't they?
One more thing. Bahá'ís are very inclusive people. We have nine Holy Days and this one very special season of joy and sharing, and we don't by any means hoard them. Everyone is welcome to join in, particularly in the case of Ayyám-i-Há, which is first and foremost a season of love. So all our relatives and any member of the wider community, regardless of religious persuasion, are invited to join us. (Yeah, that means you, too!) There is no religion test, no race test, no nationality test. All of humanity is our family, too, isn't it?
Whoever you are, I invite you to join us as February draws to close in this celebration of love and unity. Give a gift. Hug your children. Help a stranger. Be God's love reaching out to embrace everyone you meet.
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