October 20th is one of my favorite holy days, as it commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Mírzá 'Alí-Muhhamad, titled the Báb (Gate), one of the three central figures of the Bahá'í Faith. He is revered as the Herald Who, according to the sacred scriptures of previous religious dispensations, was to announce and prepare the way for the advent of the great Redeemer who would inaugurate an era of righteousness and peace -- God's Kingdom on Earth.
He was born October 20, 1819, in Shíráz, Persia (now Iran) into a distinguished family of merchants. His father, who died when He was a child, was renowned for his honesty and good business practices.
'Abdu'l-Bahá said of the Báb, "… at a youthful age, that is to say when He had reached the twenty-fifth year of His blessed life, He stood forth to proclaim His Cause. It was universally admitted by the Shí’ites that he had never studied in any school, and had not acquired knowledge from any teacher; all the people of Shíráz bear witness to this. Nevertheless, He suddenly appeared before the people, endowed with the most complete erudition. Although He was but a merchant, He confounded all the ‘ulamá [religious teachers] of Persia…. This illustrious soul arose with such power that He shook the supports of the religion, of the morals, the conditions, the habits, and the customs of Persia, and instituted new rules, new laws, and a new religion. Though the great personages of the State, nearly all the clergy, and the public men, arouse to destroy and annihilate Him, He alone withstood them, and moved the whole of Persia....
"The government, the nation, the doctors of divinity, and the great personages, desired to extinguish His light, but they could not do so.... He imparted divine education to an unenlightened multitude and produced marvelous results on the thoughts, morals, customs, and conditions of the Persians. He announced the glad tidings of the manifestation of the Sun of Bahá [Bahá'u'lláh] to His followers, and prepared them to believe.
"The appearance of such wonderful signs and great results, the effects produced upon the minds of the people, and upon prevailing ideas; the establishment of the foundations of progress, and the organization of the principles of success and prosperity by a young merchant, constitute the greatest proof that He was a perfect Educator. A just person will never hesitate to believe this." Some Answered Questions, pp 25-25
Bahá'í communities around the world gather to celebrate with devotional programs, music and festive meals, and work is suspended. Children participate, as school is also suspended, youth often lead, adults greet family and friends in joyous reunion. A good time is had by all, regardless of language, race, age, religious background and national origin.
One thing I should mention is that there are no rituals, no set ceremonies, in Bahá'í activities. The religion is too young to have developed such things, and Bahá'u'lláh did not design many, so the flavors of local traditions and culture shine through. In Southern California, there might be a barbeque on the beach; in the Solomon Islands, a pig roast. In Alaska, the Bahá'ís might hold a potlatch to support a local women's shelter, and in South Africa or Scandinavia it could be a concert featuring young local musicians.
The week I wrote this article in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was my 44th Birth of the Báb celebration. I look forward to this celebration each year, in whatever community I find myself.