02/26/2012 05:45 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2012

Baha'is Celebrate Festive Season of Ayyam-i-Ha

The Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha lasts from Feb. 26 until March 1. The Baha'i calendar consists of 19 months, each 19 days long, equaling 361 days. Ayyam-i-Ha or the Intercalary days last four days during regular years and five days during a leap year like 2012. This period brings the Baha'i calendar into conformity with a solar year.

The Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha is a time of fellowship within the Baha'i community and toward all of humanity. Baha'is have few rituals so creativity is the watchword in community celebrations and in acts of kindness and charity toward other people.

Winnona Merritt, now residing in High Point, N.C., age 74 years and a Baha'i for 39 years, describes the fun activities she and her children enjoyed during the Ayyam-i-Ha season:

Our 6 kids grew up in Andy Griffith's Mayberry -- Mount Airy, North Carolina. One year we told them and our foster daughter to come up with the suggestions for Ayyam-i-Ha celebrations for all four days.

The most fun was the "Middle of the Night Costume Party" with butterscotch fondue over apples and other sweets. A local Baha'i arrived at midnight as a slug -- with his brown sweater over his head and some makeshift "antennae" near his glasses which he had to have so he pushed the ear pieces through holes in the sweater -- he was a huge source of hilarity.

Another costume party was in 1983 when things were tough for our Persian friends. Their tears were hidden for the night of fun and dancing and storytelling.

Deborah Rodgers, age 50 and a Baha'i for a decade, is the public information officer of Casa Grande, Ariz. She describes her community's Ayyam-i-Ha efforts:

For the second consecutive year, we are running a food drive to benefit the Casa Grande Food Bank. Their need is dire, as most who give to the Food Bank do so in November and December for Thanksgiving and Christmas. By the time Ayyam-i-Ha comes around, the Food Bank finds itself running out of food and donors. This creates a unique opportunity for us to serve.

The community is collaborating with another nearby Baha'i community and hopes to donate two pick-up trucks full of food.

Maria Chouchtari, an adult Baha'i of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in Africa, describes children's activities in her community:

The children in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, West Africa had a special Ayyam-i-Ha celebration and they invited the community. They hosted it, cooked the food and prepared the gifts and the beverages. They sold their drawings and craft and gave some of the money to the Baha'i Fund and the rest to a charitable association.

They also made beautiful drawings, bought popcorn and candies and went to visit the terminally sick children at the Hospital. They sang them songs, told stories and raised their spirits. They also gave them coloring books with felt markers and colored pencils, some story books and a special prayer for children.

Most of all they did it all themselves with the help of their children's class teacher and collected over $500 dollars from their little bazaar. They collected little contributions also for presents which they shared with the community.

These children were between the ages of 4 and 12 and they were of African, Canadian, Persian and Mixed ...descent. Children of the world.

They also put on a short presentation about the unity of world religions and played the role of a Hindu, A Muslim, A Christian and a Baha'i, a Zoroastrian, A Buddhist and a Jew and said a special verse that they recited from their Sacred Writings about how to treat our fellow man called the GOLDEN RULE.

Valerie W. Smith, age 59 and a Baha'i for 39 years, lives in Old Saybrook, Conn., and relates a favorite memory:

One of my best memories since arriving here in Old Saybrook, CT was supporting an Ayyam-i-Ha for young families. At one point, one of the parents was standing stock still in the middle of a group, intently reading a Baha'i brochure, while a swirl of children played around him- almost like children going around a Maypole. It remains a great visual image for me.

Chela Lucas works at Bosch Baha'i School in Santa Cruz, Calif., and she and two other women made a deeply meaningful charitable donation during Ayyam-i-Ha.

Last year three of us decided to donate our hair to the "Locks of Love" program to make wigs for kids with cancer. We grew our hair out over a year or so. As our Ayyam-i-Ha gift we donate our hair to help kids with cancer that have lost their hair. We are three generations of Baha'i women: Chela Lucas -- 55 (Baha'i all my life), Denise English -- 27 (Baha'i all her life) and Annabell Maldonado -- 11 (most of her life).

Annabell's mom also works with us at Bosch. Teresa Maldonado is a breast cancer survivor and accompanied us to the hair salon where we got our hair cut. Annabell wanted to do this in her mom's name. This is one of my best memories of Ayyam-i-Ha giving.

Ayyam-i-Ha is more than festivities and charitable giving. Baha'is prepare themselves for the fast, which lasts from March 2 to March 20. During the fast, Baha'is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset, and recite special prayers for the Baha'i month of fasting.

The purpose of the fast is: "Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion." --Baha'u'llah.

The day after the month of fasting is the Baha'i New Year's Day, Naw-Ruz, often translated as Noowruz, a traditional, secular celebration in Iran observed by all faith traditions with parties and other merriment. Only the Baha'i world community observes the day as its New Year.