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Here’s the problem: The planet we live on travels around the sun once every 365.24 days. That pesky additional quarter-day, just six extra hours, has created a challenge for every calendar ever invented.
RELATED: How the Bab’s New Calendar Transforms Time
Since the solar year doesn’t have a whole number of days, but every calendar must, the most common way to reconcile that fractional day involves varying the number of days in the calendar year.
To keep the calendar year synchronized with the Earth’s fractional astronomical year, most familiar calendars meet that challenge with a “leap day,” by adding one extra 24-hour day to the calendar every four years.
This process, called “intercalation,” makes calendars work, but isn’t the most elegant solution, because it arbitrarily and confusingly changes the length of that one month every fourth year. That means, in the Gregorian calendar which most of the world now uses, in years divisible by four we intercalate an extra day at the end of the shortest month, February, and call that year a “leap” year.
A New Calendar for a New Era
Along with its new teachings for humanity’s peace, justice, and prosperity, the Baha’i revelation brought a new calendar for humanity that addresses this challenge in a unique way.
First revealed by the Bab, the herald and precursor of the Baha’i Faith’s founder Baha’u’llah, this new Baha’i calendar is based on the number 19, which symbolizes the primary Baha’i teaching of unity. The Universal House of Justice, the global administrative body for the world’s Baha’is, explained that in the Persian language, the:
… word ‘Vahid’ has a numerical value of 19, and means ‘Unity’, It symbolizes the unity of God, and thus the number 19 itself symbolizes the unity of God, and it was used by the Bab as the basis for His Calendar.
This underscores why each Baha’i year has 19 equal months of 19 days each, and since 19 x 19 = 361, the extra four or five days each year become Baha’i Intercalary days — days of joy, celebration, gift-giving, hospitality, and service to others.
Since this intercalary period falls outside the structure of the normal Baha’i months, those four or five “days without months” can adjust easily during a leap year without altering the regular ongoing schedule and duration of the regular sequence of months. This also has the added benefit of leaving the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, in its rightful solar place every year.
RELATED: Happy Ayyám-i-Há! What Baha’is Do During Intercalary Days
This new calendar, now adopted around the world in every Baha’i community, has already begun to have an impact on humanity. Baha’is celebrate Intercalary Days by holding festivities, giving gifts, throwing and going to parties, starting service projects, and doing charitable humanitarian work for the poor and the needy. This fun, celebratory, and service-oriented time precedes a 19-day period of intermittent fasting and reflection during the last Baha’i month of the year.
In his “Most Holy Book,” Baha’u’llah ordained this intercalary period, which always occurs right before the 19 days of the annual Baha’i Fast, in this way:
Let the days in excess of the months be placed before the month of fasting. We have ordained that these, amid all nights and days, shall be the manifestations of the letter Ha, and thus they have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months. It behooveth 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; and when they end — these days of giving that precede the season of restraint — let them enter upon the Fast.
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 next installment of this series) Baha’is say this 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.
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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