The institution of a new calendar system typically corresponds with the advent of a new divine revelation. The most commonly used calendars include the Gregorian calendar (of Christian origins), the Islamic calendar, the Hindu calendar, the Buddhist calendar, and the Hebrew calendar.
The most recent of these divine revelations, the Bahá’í Faith, employs the Badí calendar, which was created by the founder of the Bábi Faith, the Báb – harbinger of the Bahá’í revelation. The Bahá’í calendar is a solar calendar composed of 19 months of 19 days each. Its elegant and logical design places the vernal equinox (i.e., the beginning of spring, and therefore, of life) as the first day of the year. Prior to the New Year, however, the resolution of every Bahá’í is cultivated through a period of festivity, fasting, meditation, mindfulness, and service.
As the calendar is composed of 19 months x 19 days (361 days) there are 4 intercalary days (5 in a leap year) remaining. These days are not placed at the end of the calendar; instead, they are strategically inserted before the 19th month, the month of fasting. Intimately tied to the last month of the Bahá’í year, the intercalary days are celebrated as the festival of Ayyám-i-Há. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (considered by Bahá’ís as the charter of their faith) Bahá’u’lláh characterizes Ayyám-i-Há as days when:
“..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…”
Following these days of revelry and service is the “season of restraint” – the Bahá’ís Fast – when every Bahá’í between the ages of 15 and 70 is obligated (i.e., to Baha’u’llah, as no administrative body in the Bahá’í faith has the right to enforce laws of personal behaviour) to abstain from food, drink, and smoking between sunrise and sunset for 19 days.
One of the goals of the Bahá’í revelation is to redefine our long-held conceptions of how human civilization should work. In many cultures, patterns of living are intimately tied to calendrical systems. One cultural practice that is common in Western industrialized nations is to hyperactively consume during the Christmas holidays, to celebrate the passing year through mindless social shebangs on December 31st, to begin the first day of the new year by resolving to “never do that again,” and to spend the next month paying off holiday debts and creating excuses for why ones resolution was “too ambitious.”
In contrast, the Bahá’í calendar challenges the individual to end the year with intensive mindfulness, service, prayer, fellowship, and restraint. To be sure, the behaviour that is expected of Baha’is at the end of each year would be very difficult for any human to sustain over 365 days. It is, however, a mystically spiritual experience that resets our bodies, minds, and spirits to a more compassionate and mindful pattern of living. It also inspires the steadfast to behave virtuously for…well…most of the year.
This year, we end our calendar on a rather sad note. The social and political unrest that is facing our planet is not only destabilizing institutions and economies, but it is also destroying lives. From rising poverty, hunger, and homelessness to civil wars, cultural revolutions, and environmental degradation, our world is going through a violent process of change. Now, regardless of whether your vision of the future is optimistic or not, the reality of humanity’s current situation is discouraging to say the least.
I would like to request that we all make some effort during these joyous days of Ayyám-i-Há and the Fast to be mindful of the difficulties facing our brothers and sisters around the world, and, if possible, to take some action towards alleviating their suffering if not putting an end to it altogether.