Festival serves as preparation for fast
SINGAPORE — Baha'is in more than 200 countries and territories are celebrating a four-day festival involving hospitality, gift giving, charity and social gatherings.
The festival, which runs from the evening of 25 February until sunset on 1 March, serves as a spiritual preparation for a fast during the last month of the Baha'is calendar, which begins on March 2 and ends on March 20.
Celebrations of Ayyam-i-Ha, as the festival is called, are taking different forms in different locations. In Singapore, for example, Baha'is are observing Ayyam-i-Ha with a blood donation drive and a picnic for families in a beachside park.
In Hungary, Baha'is plan to celebrate the festival with a musical program and a costume party for children in the Hungarian Culture Foundation building in Budapest.
In Milford, New Hampshire, in the United States, the Baha'is have invited friends and neighbors to join them for devotions and then entertainment, which will include learning a local folk dance, watching jugglers, enjoying music, and gift-giving.
The Baha'i calendar was initiated by the Bab, the Forerunner of the Faith's Prophet-Founder, Baha'u'llah, who later confirmed it.
The calendar comprises 19 months of 19 days. The Ayyam-i-Ha festival falls on the four days (five in a leap year) needed to balance out the solar year of 365 days. The time of this festival is also known as "Intercalary Days".
Of this period Baha'u'llah writes: "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 to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name."
During the fast which follows, Baha'is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset as a reminder of the need for individuals to control their material desires.
It is seen as a time of meditation and prayer during which Baha'is refresh and reinvigorate themselves spiritually.
There are exemptions from the fast for the young and elderly, and for those who are pregnant, ill or who are engaging in heavy work.
The fasting period ends with the joyous Naw Ruz (New Year) festival, which begins at sunset on March 20.