November 26 is the Day of the Covenant, a holy day for Bahá'ís on which work is not suspended, but which is none the less important for its purpose. This is the day chosen by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to commemorate a first in religious history: a clearly delineated change of leadership that would prevent successful schism.
Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, left a written will naming His eldest son as successor and legal interpreter of His teachings. Also important to Bahá'ís is the example set by this son's life and actions, which they use as the perfect model of a sanctified life. Abbas Effendi took the title 'Abdu'l-Bahá upon his Father's death, and never used any other afterward. It means, literally, Servant of the Light. He said this about it: "I affirm...the real significance...is my own servitude to the sacred Threshold of the Abhá Beauty [Bahá'u'lláh], my complete self-effacement, my utter nothingness before Him. This is my resplendent crown, my most precious adorning. On this I pride myself in the kingdom of earth and heaven..." And further, when people called him a saint or the return of Christ, he denied such a distinction, saying: “My name is 'Abdu’l-Bahá. My qualification is 'Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is 'Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is 'Abdu’l-Bahá. ...and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion...No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except 'Abdu’l-Bahá.”
In 1912, 'Abdu'l-Bahá spent several months traveling and teaching in the United States and Canada. Much of his time was spent educating the believers in this nascent Bahá'í community. Among the many questions people asked were those concerning holy days and their commemoration. Many wished to celebrate his birthday as holy, but he was born on the evening of May 23, 1844, which was already a holy day commemorating the beginning of the new religion. 'Abdu'l-Bahá did not want anything to dilute the importance of that day, and preferred NOT to be an object of adoration, anyway.
Accordingly, he chose a date far removed from his birth date, and further instructed the believers not to celebrate him or his birth, but rather to understand and appreciate his station as the Center of Bahá'u'lláh's covenant--that instrument and institution which was designed to prevent the schisms which had regularly plagued religion in the past.
For me, the Day of the Covenant is about more than remembering this amazing aspect of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, or the unique and wonderful person of His son and successor. It is about remembrance of what is important about life in general, and their lives in particular. Bahá'ís will have parties, of course, because this is a joyous occasion; but it also a time to realize just how lucky we are to be living at this time, as humanity is on the brink of maturity, at last capable of building God's Kingdom on Earth.
With Bahá'u'lláh's instructions and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's patient guidance and example, each one of us can have a part in God's eternal plan. "…if a soul is endowed with the attributes of true faith and characterized with spiritual qualities he will become to all mankind an emblem of the outstretched mercies of God. For the attributes of the people of faith are justice and fair-mindedness; forbearance and compassion and generosity; consideration for others; candor, trustworthiness, and loyalty; love and loving-kindness; devotion and determination and humanity. If therefore an individual is truly righteous, he will avail himself of all those means which will attract the hearts of men, and through the attributes of God he will draw them to the straight path of faith and cause them to drink from the river of everlasting life." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 55
The Day of the Covenant is a day when we can be grateful for one of the greatest bounties of this chapter in the eternal guidance from God--a clearly defined plan of succession.