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Our Earth orbits around the Sun once every 365 and a quarter days—and for every calendar ever invented, that extra quarter day has presented a perplexing challenge.

After all, it wouldn’t work to put a quarter-day in a calendar.

So to keep the calendar year synchronized with the Earth’s astronomical year, most familiar calendars meet that solar year challenge with a “leap day”—which adds an extra 24-hour day to one month every four years. That process, called “intercalation,” makes calendars work, but isn’t a very elegant solution, because it arbitrarily changes the length of that one month.

In the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world now uses, in years divisible by four we intercalate that extra day at the end of the shortest month, February, and call that year a leap year. Every four years February gets a little longer, which can make things confusing.

The Baha’i calendar addresses this challenge in a unique way, by incorporating “intercalary” days every year. Each Baha’i year has nineteen months of 19 days each, and since 19² = 361, each year four or five days become Baha’i intercalary days. Since they fall outside the structure of the normal months, those days can adjust easily during a leap year without altering the regular schedule and duration of months—and they have the added benefit of leaving the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, in its rightful place.

So what do Baha’is do during those annual intercalary days? They celebrate by spending four or five days holding festivities, giving gifts, throwing and going to parties, starting service projects and doing charitable humanitarian work for others. This fun, enjoyable time precedes a period of fasting and reflection during the last Baha’i month of the year.

During those four or five Baha’i holy days (called Ayyam-i-Ha, which means “Days of Ha”—more about that name later, in the second installment of this series) Baha’is devote their time and energy to hospitality, feasting, rejoicing and charity. Also, they may say this Intercalary Days prayer from Baha’u’llah—which asks the Creator to admit every soul, no matter who they are, into God’s presence:

My God, my Fire and my Light! The days which Thou hast named the Ayyam-i-Ha in Thy Book have begun, O Thou Who art the King of names, and the fast which Thy most exalted Pen hath enjoined unto all who are in the kingdom of Thy creation to observe is approaching. I entreat Thee, O my Lord, by these days and by all such as have during that period clung to the cord of Thy commandments, and laid hold on the handle of Thy precepts, to grant that unto every soul may be assigned a place within the precincts of Thy court, and a seat at the revelation of the splendors of the light of Thy countenance.

These, O my Lord, are Thy servants whom no corrupt inclination hath kept back from what Thou didst send down in Thy Book. They have bowed themselves before Thy Cause, and received Thy Book with such resolve as is born of Thee, and observed what Thou hadst prescribed unto them, and chosen to follow that which had been sent down by Thee.

Thou seest, O my Lord, how they have recognized and confessed whatsoever Thou hast revealed in Thy Scriptures. Give them to drink, O my Lord, from the hands of Thy graciousness the waters of Thine eternity. Write down, then, for them the recompense ordained for him that hath immersed himself in the ocean of Thy presence, and attained unto the choice wine of Thy meeting.

I implore Thee, O Thou the King of kings and the Pitier of the downtrodden, to ordain for them the good of this world and of the world to come. Write down for them, moreover, what none of Thy creatures hath discovered, and number them with those who have circled round Thee, and who move about Thy throne in every world of Thy worlds.

Thou, truly, art the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 235-236.

No matter who or where you are in the world, if you visit a Baha’i community during Intercalary Days you’re likely to encounter a celebratory mood, happy gatherings and maybe even a gift or two. Baha’is everywhere invite everyone to join the festivities!

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