November 26, 2011

November 26, 1901: The first commemoration of a Baha’i Holy Day in North America

On 26 November 1901 the House and the Women's Assembly of Teaching [of Chicago] sponsored a celebration of 'the Master's Day'. Today this is known as the Day of the Covenant. It was the first definite commemoration in the United States of a Baha’i Holy Day. 'Abdu'l-Baha had asked the Baha'is to hold a commemoration of the Baha'i covenant rather than a celebration of His birthday because He had been born on the same day that the Báb had declared His mission and that day should be devoted to the Báb's anniversary. On 26 November the Chicago House of Justice sent telegrams of greeting to other Baha'i communities but since it had not informed them of the Holy Day ahead of time, no observances are known to have occurred elsewhere. Chicago's festivities represented a harmonious blend of Baha'i and Protestant practices. In the Minutes of the Chicago House of Justice, dated 1 December 1901 we read:

“The . . . room was decorated with beautiful flowers, there being about thirty-five of the believers present, including our dear teachers, Mirza Aboul Fazle [Abu'l-Fadl] and Mrrza Assad'ullah.

The festivities began with the hymn 'The tie that binds our hearts together', in which all took part with organ accompaniment.

In compliance with the request of Miza Assad'ullah, one of the believers read the Tablet revealed by the Master . .. Mirza Asad'ullah then made a few remarks, stating that this was indeed a glorious evening, that there was a great mystery connected with this meeting known only to the Master, and that if one's ears were spiritually opened they might might hear the anthems and praises from all directions emanating from the Kingdom of ABHA.

Refreshments were then served, the believers acting as servants toward one another the spirit joy and fragrance being manifested by all. Another Tablet revealed by the Master was then read, followed by a hymn, after which all gradually left for home.”

The mixture of protestant and Baha'i practices at the Holy Day typified the Chicago Baha'i community, which in 1901 was still quite Christian. Mirza Asadu’llah had continued to give weekly lessons, mostly or biblical subjects -- an effort that did little to decrease the Chicago Baha'is' emphasis on the Bible. However, he did instruct the Chicagoans about Baha'i religious practices and thus gave them a few of the new teachings that the craved. 
(Adapted from ‘The Baha’i Faith in America’, volume 2, by Robert Stockman. Pp.56-57)