Intercalary Days & Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is mark holy period before New Year

Shades of purple, pink and blue in calm water and rocks at sunset with sky

Beginning at sunset, and for three days, Baha’is will observe the joyous Ayyam-i-Ha; following will be the Nineteen-Day Fast, which ends the day before New Year. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • SUNSET WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of three special days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a special fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.


Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith, as the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on February 28, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha. (Wikipedia has details.)

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar will reflect changes made by the Universal House of Justice. Starting in 2015, Naw-Ruz (New Year) will fall on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

The Nineteen-Day Fast takes place during the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar, known as the month of Ala. Intercalary Days account for the days “in between” the 18th month and Ala. This year, because Vernal Equinox falls on March 20, Intercalary Days will last an unprecedented three days.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation—which is not practiced in Islam—was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. (Learn more from Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.


SUNSET SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: With the festive days of Ayyim-i-Ha behind, Baha’is enter the final month of the calendar year with the Nineteen-Day Fast. For the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar year—Ala, which lasts 19 days—Baha’is observe a sunrise-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith. (Learn more from Planet Baha’i.) Instituted by the Bab and revised by Baha’u’llah, the Nineteen-Day Fast is intended to bring a person closer to God. According to the Bab, the true purpose of the fast is to abstain from everything except divine love. Fasting guidelines, exemptions and more are in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws.


A young singer whose online demos nabbed the interest of a Grammy-winning producer has created an album of “Neo-soul” beats, as she joins an emerging wave of Baha’i artists on the international music scene. (Read more at Shameem, a native of Australia, recently released The Second City, so named for one of Baha’u’llah’s works, The Seven Valleys. Shameem’s songs use vivid imagery of concepts such as the Valley of Love, and her 2015 Australian tour will feature songs from the new album.

Interested in Shameem’s music? Check out a YouTube video of one of her songs, Under One Sun.


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Categories: Baha'i

Clean Monday: Orthodox Christians kick off Lent with kites, seafood & lagana

Round flatbread with seeds on top, torn in half with brown sauce on side in cup

Greek lagana bread, baked only for Clean Monday. Photo by Sofia Gk, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23: The flavors of shellfish and soft lagana bread are associated with the start of the Lenten season in Greece. Outside, colorful kites fly above the fields as Orthodox Christians mark Clean Monday.

Western Christian Lent began last week with Ash Wednesday. The moveable date of Easter (at the end of Lent) and the method of counting 40 days in Lent is one of the centuries-old differences among Christians East and West.

“Western Christians count Lent’s 40 days as starting with Ash Wednesday but excluding Sundays. Eastern Christians, those generally called Orthodox, start their 40 days on a Monday, counting Sundays, but excluding the week leading up to Easter.” That’s one of the intriguing details in the book, Our Lent: Things We Carry, by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. “Some Christians fast; some don’t. Millions of Western Christians retain a custom of limited fasting; millions of Eastern Christians prayerfully make significant sacrifices during this season.”

Eight days ago, Eastern Christians observed Meatfare Sunday, the last time observant Christians will eat meat until Pascha (Easter). One day ago was Cheesefare Sunday, when Eastern Christians consume dairy products for the last time. Today, Orthodox families begin the fast of Great Lent with “clean” foods and a cleansed state of mind.


Rather than begin Lent in a solemn manner, Clean Monday is celebrated as a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus: outdoor activities, zany local traditions, kite flying and plenty of (Lenten-friendly) food is par for the course. (Greek Reporter has the story.) As shellfish is permitted in these cultures throughout Lent, a spread of extravagant dishes based on the food is common on Clean Monday in Greece.

Customs and traditions vary by locality in Greece on the first day the Lenten season, with colored flour being thrown into crowds in Glaxidi, on the northern coast of the Corinth Gulf; on the Greek island of Chios, a man dresses up as “Aga,” or “Ayas” (the tax collector), then he and his followers grab local villagers to put them into a mock trial. The “criminals” found guilty must suffer punishment or pay a fine that funds the village’s cultural association.


The flying of kites across Greece welcomes spring in a colorful and festive manner, and many traditional kite makers pride themselves on decades of experience. When out and about, picnic baskets are often filled with lagana, an unleavened bread baked only for Clean Monday, and taramosalata, a dip made of salted and cured roe mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs. (Wikipedia has details.) Feasts of bean soup, shellfish dishes, octopus platters, shrimp dishes and more are carefully prepared for a Clean Monday extravaganza.

Interested in baking lagana? Find a recipe at the blog Lemon & Olives, or at The Greek Vegan.

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Categories: Christian

Chinese New Year: Welcome the Year of the Goat

Oranges with green leaf tops on red black-print patterned paper with wooden reeds in back

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19: The Chinese Year of the Goat starts today with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.


Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. In 2015, the eighth animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac—the goat—will have supremacy. (Select watch brands have designed goat faces for this event, as Forbes reported.) The goat represents independence and an observant nature.


Vase with branches with red envelopes hanging all over branches

Red envelopes hang from branches at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, in California. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. (Wikipedia has details.) In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. (News alert: This year, Filipino-Chinese and Chinese Catholics in Manila were granted an episcopal jurisdiction exemption for Ash Wednesday fasting, in light of the eve of Chinese New Year.) Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. (View colorful photos from CNN.) Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.


If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:


A new approach to the red envelope tradition was unveiled last month, when the company Tencent announced the capability to send electronic red packets via smartphone. (CNBC has the story.) The service, which saw $2.9 million worth of transfers in its first 24 hours, allows users to send and receive digital envelopes of money.

In Australia, 90 warriors originally created for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are lighting up Sydney Harbour, as part of the city’s Chinese New Year Festival. The warriors, which are modeled after the terracotta warriors found in the tomb of China’s first Emperor in 1974, are lit in red, green, yellow and blue. (Read more from Australia’s program is the largest Lunar New Year celebration outside of Asia.

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Categories: Faiths of East AsiaInternational Observances

Ash Wednesday: Western Christians begin Lent

Priest in purple vestments with one hand raised to forehead of woman, other in line behind her

Marking the foreheads of the faithful with ashes at Southwark Cathedral, in England. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18: Lent commences today for more than a billion Western Christians. From solemn church services to a nationwide movement nicknamed “Ashes to Go,” adherents observe Ash Wednesday.

Eastern Orthodox Christians, due to variances in church calendars, will start Lent about a week later following Cheesefare Sunday on February 22 (when Orthodox Christians who plan to observe the fast of Great Lent will have their last taste of cheese until Easter). February 23 is called Clean Monday, the start of that challenging fasting period for Eastern Christians.

In the Western church, Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a day of repentance and prayer. In some churches, palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are blessed and burned into ashes, although most churches conducting these services now purchase the ashes from religious-supply companies. During a liturgy marking the day, a church leader swipes the ashes into the shape of a cross on the recipient’s forehead. Rather than wash the ashes, recipients are supposed to let the ashes wear off throughout the remainder of the day as part of their spiritual reflections. (Learn more from Wikipedia and

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke detail the story of Jesus spending 40 days fasting in the desert, where he is repeatedly tempted by Satan. Lent similar marks 40 days, not counting Sundays.


In a nationwide effort to bring ashes to those too busy to attend church services, pastors and laypersons are visiting train stations, malls, public parks, coffee shops and college campuses to mark the foreheads of the faithful. From California to Minneapolis, congregations are reporting excitement for this new approach to an old ritual. Leaders report that “Ashes to Go” allows faith traditions to be carried outside the walls of the church to the places where people are on an average day. (Check out stories from ABC News and the Ashbury Park Press.)

In Manila, the Archdiocese has granted a 2015 episcopal jurisdiction exemption or dispensation from the obligation of fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday to Filipino-Chinese and Chinese Catholics, in regard for the coinciding of Ash Wednesday with the eve of the Chinese New Year. It has been emphasized, however, that those who choose to accept the dispensation are required to engage in other forms of penance and charity.


Families interested in counting the days of Lent can try a “Lent calendar,” similar to an Advent calendar, in which children can place a sticker on each day as it ends (a calendar can be downloaded here). Alternatively, FishEaters suggests a “Lent chain,” for which children create 40 pieces of paper inscribed with kind acts and prayers. Each day of Lent, the children cut a link and perform the day’s act or prayer.

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Categories: Christian

Maha Shivaratri: Hindus fast, hold vigils for Lord Shiva and the ideal marriage

Figures of blue-skinned god Shiva and colorfully dressed woman Parvati, seated next to each other on fancy chair

The ideal marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati is recognized with fervor on Mahashivaratri. Photo by Vinoth Chandar, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17: A full day of fasting and worship is followed by a nighttime vigil for Lord Shiva, on the Hindu holiday of Maha Shivaratri. A member of the Hindu Trinity, Lord Shiva is associated with several legends and renowned as the model of an ideal husband. On Maha Shivaratri, many Hindus believe that Lord Shiva performed the Tandava—the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. After a full day of visiting temples, performing ritual baths for figures of Lord Shiva and fasting, Hindus begin a vigil that lasts the entire night.


Many stories are shared as this holiday is celebrated by Hindus in India, Nepal, Trinidad, Tobago and other parts of the world. According to one legend, Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, were married on this day. As the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvatai is regarded as ideal, married women pray for the well being of their husbands and single women pray that they will find a husband like Shiva. (Learn more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.) In another traditional story, Lord Shiva manifested in the form of a Linga on Maha Shivaratri, and thus the day is regarded as extremely auspicious.


After waking early for a ritual bath, Hindus begin the day by visiting the temple. At the temple, Hindus pray, make offerings and bathe figures of Shiva in milk, honey or water. Many devotees either fast or partake in only milk and fruit throughout the day. As evening falls, the worship continues, and hymns and devotional songs are sung to Shiva throughout the night. (Wikipedia has details.) It’s believed that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on Maha Shivaratri—Lord Shiva’s favorite day—will bring absolution of sins, neutrality of the mind and assistance in liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

In the news: Reports are circulating that some ancient Saivite temples, such as the 1,000-year-old Ganapeswaralayam shrine at Kusumanchi, will be “spruced up” for Maha Shivaratri. The Ganapeswaralayam shrine is said to be home to one of India’s largest Siva Lingams.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Shrove Tuesday: It’s Mardi Gras, Carnival and Pancake Day

Figure in elaborate costume of white and gold with gold mask

In Venice, Carnevale means elaborate masks and layered costumes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Pancake Day—all describe the massive celebration that takes place one day before the start of the Christian season of reflection and penitence known as Lent.

Make no mistake—in some countries, this colossal party is the biggest bash of the year. Roots of this festival can be traced to the pagan era, but Christians have been using the day for shriving—confessing—and cleaning out their cupboards of sugar and lard for centuries. In parts of England, traditional pancake races still take place on Shrove Tuesday, and pancakes of all flavors are served across the UK. In Rio de Janiero, Brazil—home of the world’s largest Carnival eventfestivities last for days and boast exquisite costumes, elaborate samba dances, tantalizing foods and seemingly endless parades.

Did you know? Carnival derives from the term carne levare, “to take away meat.” The term is still used in Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries to refer to the approaching abstinence of Lent.


Some Christian denominations mark Shrove Tuesday on their calendars, including Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans and Roman Catholics. In preparation for the start of Lent, Christians are encouraged to pray to God for assistance during the 40-day period of fasting and repentance. Some churches with daily liturgies include special Shrove Tuesday prayers.

Much of the action on this holiday unfolds at home. Hundreds of years ago, as housewives cleared their cupboards of “indulgent” foods like sugar, lard and butter before Lent, they baked treats with the rich ingredients. Before the fasting of the Lenten season, housewives prepared the pancakes and other foods that are still consumed on Shrove Tuesday. In Sweden, the semla pastry is prepared; in Lithuania, spurgo doughnuts are consumed; in Estonia, vastlakukkel sweet buns are filled with jam and eaten with whipped cream; in Poland and in Polish communities in the U.S., the paczki is a favorite treat. (Wikipedia has details.)


Literally “fat Tuesday,” or “grease Tuesday,” from the French Mardi Gras, the day preceding Ash Wednesday is the stuff of legends. In Britain, Shrove Tuesday activities date to the 12th Century. One traditional story says that the 11 a.m. ringing of the church bell caught a housewife was in the midst of cooking pancakes. As a result, this woman brought her frying pan—with a pancake still inside—to church. Races that require participants to toss pancakes into the air while running have been popular across the UK ever since. In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race gathers teams from the British Houses to raise awareness for health and social care for the disabled and marginalized.

Stack of pancakes from top with two slices of banana

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Australians love pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, as well, with many pancake fundraisers benefiting churches and charities. In Brazil and Italy, the festivities of Carnival(e) draw millions of tourists. (The International Business Times reported, with photos from Brazil. Alternatively, the Guardian captured 2015 media from Venice.) In New Orleans, Louisina, crowds flock to the French Quarter for a boisterous version of Mardi Gras.


Interested in livening up your go-to version of the pancake?

The Guardian rounded up reader recipes, with these tasty results.

English Chef Thomasina Miers suggests homemade Nutella, with more recipes here.

The Huffington Post serves up 16 pancake recipe ideas.


YouTube launched a channel dedicated to the Carnaval de Salvador, the second-largest Carnival celebration in Brazil. Musical performances, Brazilian dancing and more can be viewed here.

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Categories: Christian

Meatfare Sunday: Orthodox Christians eliminate meat & look to Great Lent

Hand and fork jabbing at white meat poultry on plate of food

After Meatfare Sunday, Orthodox Christians do not consume meat until Pascha (Easter). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15: Lent is on the horizon for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and today, Eastern Orthodox churches take gradual steps into the Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday. After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter); in one week, Cheesefare Sunday will discontinue the partaking of dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday—this year, February 23.

Though commonly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, this third Sunday of the Triodion Period is more formally known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In services, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ, in Matthew, refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) While the opportunity exists, the faithful are encouraged to repent. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well one has shared God’s love, and how deeply one has cared for others.

On the Saturday prior to Meatfare Sunday and on the two Saturdays following, a liturgy and memorial service is held for the faithful departed. These days are known as the Saturdays of the Souls.

Interested in some delicious new meat recipes for this final opportunity ? Find recipes at Allrecipes, Cooking Light and Food & Wine.

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Categories: Christian