The Nineteen Day Feast and Why it’s Important

Photo courtesy Baha’i Views/Flitzy Phoebie via Flickr.

When I recall first being told as a child that we were going to “feast” in the evening, I think of how my imagination kicked into overdrive. I envisaged long medieval-style banquet tables overflowing with roast chicken, legs of lamb, mashed potatoes, rice and a slew of decadent desserts as far as my chubby little eyes could see.  Much to my confusion however, we ate dinner at home as usual (not a goblet of orange juice in sight) before arriving at a fellow Bahá’í family’s home: “but I’m so full,” I thought to myself, “How am I expected to eat again?”  As the evening progressed, I came to understand the term “feast” was actually referring to the “Nineteen Day Feast” and it took on a meaning not quite what I was expecting.

The Nineteen Day Feast is a fixture of Baha’i life.  Occurring once every nineteen days, on the first day of each Baha’i month, “feast” is an opportunity for Bahá’í’s in each locality, town and neighbourhood around the world to gather together and, “if this feast be held in the proper fashion”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “ …find themselves spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world.“  Depending on the size of the community, feast can be held in one’s home, a local Baha’i Centre, community centre or even outdoors.  It has three distinct, yet equally important and related parts: the spiritual, the administrative and the social.

The spiritual component involves the reading of prayers and Writings from the Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith –Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  The use of music, including live instrumental pieces, is a popular accompaniment to this section of feast as it is stated in the Bahá’í Writings that, “music is a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high.”

Following devotions, focus turns to administrative matters. It is here the Local Spiritual Assembly (a nine-member body which administers the affairs of the local Baha’i community) provides a report of its activities to the community and receives recommendations from members of the community through a process of consultation.  Further, it provides a space within which the community can collectively reflect on the happenings of the past (Bahá’í) month and plan for future activities.

Finally, the social portion is an opportunity to enjoy refreshments (at last, the “feast” I was expecting!) and extend hospitality as a means of strengthening bonds of friendship.  A key attribute of this concluding phase is not the substance of the offering itself but the spirit with which it is shared.  In His Most Holy Book (the Kitáb-i-Aqdas) Bahá’u’lláh has states that, “it hath been enjoined upon you once a month to offer hospitality, even should ye serve no more than water…”

As there is no clergy or priesthood in the Bahá’í Faith, the responsibility for organizing the feast rests with all members of the community.  A few designated hosts (typically a small rotating group of volunteers, be it a family or few individuals) prepare the program by selecting the readings, facilitating the administrative section and providing refreshments.  The effect is that each feast possesses its own unique character, whilst continuing to maintain the requisite three layered structure.

What has often intrigued me about the Nineteen Day Feast is that despite being introduced by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and later expanded upon by both Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, attendance is not considered obligatory.  So what compels Baha’is around the world to attend, every nineteen days, like clockwork?

When reflecting on my own participation in Nineteen Day Feast I find it helpful, as with most decisions relating to my Faith, to consider what principle(s) this monthly gathering is both founded upon and geared at reinforcing.

One of the fundamental tenets of the Bahá’í Faith is the unity of mankind.  Bahá’u’lláh states, “The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.  In describing the Nineteen Day Feast, He also declares that this gathering has been willed by God to, “…bind your hearts together, though it be through heavenly and earthly means combined.”  This suggests that feast, at its core, is an instrument through which unity can be nurtured at each of its three phases.

Firstly, the sharing of prayers and Holy Writings infuses spiritual life into the community causing it to, “…unite even as the waves of one sea and become merged together as the rays of Thine effulgent Light…manifesting the spirit of union throughout the world.1

Secondly, consulting on pertinent issues and disseminating news in a centralized manner ensures a unified vision of the community’s state and is what Shoghi Effendi describes as, “a vital medium for maintaining close and continued contact between the believers themselves, and also between them and the body of their elected representatives in the local community.”

Finally the social component of the Nineteen Day Feast is described in even loftier terms by the Universal House of Justice: “The very idea of hospitality as the sustaining spirit of so significant an institution introduces a revolutionary new attitude to the conduct of human affairs at all levels, an attitude which is critical to that world unity which the Central Figures of our Faith laboured so long and suffered so much cruelty to bring into being. It is in this divine festival that the foundation is laid for the realization of so unprecedented a reality.2

This unifying force however, extends beyond the locality within which each Nineteen Day Feast is held.  Having traversed a number of countries there have been occasions where I’ve found myself in a distant land on the eve of the first day of a Bahá’í month.  Rather than feel isolated in unfamiliar surrounds, I have instead been welcomed warmly to feasts in Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Canada, among others; arriving as a mere stranger, I departed with a room full of cherished friends, thanks in no small part to the potency emanating from those three familiar stages of the Nineteen Day Feast.  Such experiences have served only to reinforce ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s counsel to ensure the Nineteen Day Feast is“…a gathering of love…the cause of illumination…a gathering of attraction of the hearts…”3

  1. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 405 []
  2. A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992 []
  3. Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 7, p. 120 []

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Discussion 8 Comments

  1. The Title reminded me of something I wrote in late 70′s early 80′s (revised occasionally) as part of a complete course on the Nineteen Day Feast . This is an excerpt from one chapter “Introduction and Importance” thought you might like to read it.

    The importance of the Feast;
    The compilation “Seeking the Light of the Kingdom “, informs us that there will be great benefits from the Feast, “When” they are “properly conducted and attended by a Bahá’í community which fully appreciates their importance”. StLotK 13
    So without further ado we should start trying to appreciate it’s importance.
    With its genesis reaching back beyond the horizon of recorded history; its direct ancestors include the Passover and the Lords Supper; like these it is an observance by the parties to the respective Covenant, it celebrates informally the fulfillment of God’s promise, the sending down of a “table “ from heaven from which we can eat spiritual food, The Qur’an referring to “a recurring festival”; it echoes symbolically and demonstrates practically the fulfillment of prophecies of various religions that an “eschatological banquet” would take place at the end days where people would gather from east and west and sit at the table of bounty. This was a recurring theme of Abdu’l Baha at the early Feasts in the west. It is unique and is the pulse of the Bahá’í calendar . its established in this Dispensation as the “Foundation of the new World Order ” A description given to it by the Guardian himself ; The Feast was inaugerated by the Bab, ratified by Baha’u’llah, the Host of each Feast;In no less than the Aqdas itself He states that God has purposed to bind the hearts of men together by both earthly and heavenly means. The Feast was emphasized by Abdu’l Baha who is present in heart and soul and whose spirituality is the very “ food” of the Feast prepared by the Blessed Beauty; Called by ‘Abdu’l Baha “a confluence of Holy Souls”; developed by the Guardian, who wrote in God Passes By of its “promoting the development of that (Administrative) Order and contributing to its consolidation,”; Called a “vital Bahai Institutions”, and a “prominent part of the administrative order,” which makes it one of the “essential and primary institutions…….destined to act as the chief and most powerful instruments for the proclamation of the Faith to the masses….”; Highlighted by the Universal House of Justice and made by them the subject of a timely compilation containing a “body of authoritative statements” A compilation of which the UK national Assembly wrote – it will “shed light on some questions which have for some time been a source of confusion”; Called by the National Assembly “the heart of the spiritual, intellectual and community life of the believers” and described by them as playing “ a vital part in the developing role of Local Spiritual Assemblies”; this vital part emphasized by the Continental Board of Counsellors for Europe at Ridván 139 when they reminded us that as well as numerical goals, the purpose of the plan was to raise up a new race of men, with a new , spiritual, way of life. To achieve this the Local Assembly must be at the heart of the community’s spiritual development . The relationship between the two is vital. The joy of the 19 Day Feast is described as an important aspect of that relationship between the community and the Assembly; Abdu’l Baha called it unique and peerless among the collective gatherings of mankind; The Nineteen Day Feast is a divinely ordained institution, a multi layered collective centre designed to perfectly compliment and develop the spiritual, intellectual and social life of the Bahá’ís and thereby mankind, it brings these three primary elements of man once more into harmony through the love of God; It is a microcosm of the new World Order, a transforming community building process, a bringer of joy, the key to affection and fellowship, an influence on the whole world, a symbol of the greater Feast “the banquet of the end days” where under the Tree of Bahá’u’lláh within the Tent of the Covenant, the faithful will gather from east and west and partake of the bounties from the divine table.

    Lets look at these in detail to understand why the Feast is important and why we should study it.
    “This festivity, which is held on a day of the nineteen-day month, was established by His Holiness the Bab, and the Blessed Beauty directed, confirmed and warmly encouraged the holding of it. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance. You should unquestionably see to it with the greatest care, and make its value known, so that it may become solidly established on a permanent basis.”
    What appears to be an older translation reads like this
    “The Feast was established by His Holiness, the Bab………….Likewise the Blessed Perfection (Baha’u’llah) hath commanded encouraged and reiterated it. Therefore, it hath the utmost importance. Undoubtedly you must give the greatest attention to its establishment and raise it to the highest point of importance.” AB (59) C&A 67

    Quite important then.

  2. The above article is an excellent overview of one of the many aspects of the Baha’i Faith. For those wanting a wider and more general context for this newest of the Abrahamic religions—you can go to this section of my website, a website which has been in operation in cyberspace for the last 16 years.-Ron
    ——————–
    http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Babi.html

  3. Liked the article. If you allow me I would just like to add another little description from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

    The Lord’s Supper – The Nineteen Day Feast

    “You must continue to keep the Nineteen Day Feast. It is very important; it is very good. But when you present yourselves in the meetings, before entering them, free yourselves from all that you have in your heart, free your thoughts and your minds from all else save God, and speak to your heart. That all may make this a gathering of love, make it the cause of illumination, make it a gathering of attraction of the hearts, surround this gathering with Lights of the Supreme Concourse, so that you may be gathered together with utmost love. “Each one of you must think how to make happy and pleased the other members of your Assembly, and each one must consider all those who are present as better and greater than himself, and each one must consider himself less than the rest. Know their station as high, and think of your own station as low.”

    (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 7, p. 120)

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 239)

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