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Festival Phobia

Festival Phobia

February 02, 2013
Can we not embrace a possibility for the happy marriage between the holidays of the host nation and festivals of our home nation?

I get very nervous when an Indian festival falls on a weekday. Most of them have an elaborate menu with specific offerings and a lengthy recital of prayers which is almost impossible to cram in the hectic weekday schedule. If our measure of culture is in the frequency of festivals we celebrate, I’m going to fail miserably.

Pongal is the harvest festival that pays respect to the sun god and cows, both of which nourish our lives immeasurably. This year it fell in the middle of the week. So we burped on the savory pongal, filled our memories with sweet pongal and looked out of the window in vain at the snow filled emptiness. How do we thank the sun god if he fails to make an appearance?

But if the idea is to be thankful for the bounty that fills our homes and stomach, then would celebrating Thanksgiving appease our Gods? While I am not in favor of a big bird slow roasting in my oven, can we not make our own holiday menu? While it is important for my kids to understand the significance of Indian festivals, shouldn’t they also learn to respect the holidays of the country they were born in? Does celebrating Thanksgiving make us more American? Can we not embrace a possibility for a happy marriage between the holidays of the host nation and festivals of our home nation?

Halloween is a ghostly all soul’s day involving scary costumes and candy overload. It is the day when the entire nation decides to participate in a very elaborate fancy dress competition. Holi, on the other hand is a celebration of colors. Nothing can be as merry as a gang of friends chasing each other with a handful of colors and getting high over bhang. If Halloween sounds silly to our immigrant minds, take a look at our smeared faces. How can we truly claim ourselves to be globalized if we refuse to look outside the window and join in on the ceremonies?

Festivals are a celebration, a celebration of family and food. It doesn’t matter which ones we celebrate as long as we send our children a consistent message - learn to appreciate the diversity while reveling in your uniqueness. Instead of clinging on to your nationality to give you an identity, embrace the world with joy. Growing up as an Indian on American soil need not be about making a choice to be either Indian or American. We can lead a hyphenated life where we learn to give thanks to the sun god with equal sincerity as we learn to give thanks over a roast turkey. What’s on the table is not half as important as those around it.

So this year instead of merely crossing off the festivals that we celebrate, there is going to be more thought on the reasons behind the celebration. If the journey is more important than the destination, it’s better to partake in the festivities rather than make excuses for skipping them.


  • Meera
    03.02.13 09:01 PM
    Zephyr: it's not so much a question of clashing as it is about celebrating the ones you grew up with and hold fond memories off... How do you pass on that festival heritage to your children amidst the hectic weekday routine?we can neither abandon nor embrace.. Somewhere middle then?
  • Zephyr
    03.02.13 08:36 PM
    Very well written piece, Meera. Often in our rush to become integrated, we tend to ignore our own -- culture, language and even festivals. But there is the other extreme of shutting oneself in ghettos too. I agree with your idea of respecting the festivals of the host nation, but as Harry says, if it clashes with ours I'd celebrate mine before going to theirs.
  • meera
    03.02.13 04:36 AM
    Thanks and there is no excuse for a party involving alocohol or is there?
    You are right, culture is not about where we are or what we eat. It's something more significant and unless we nurture that we are going to make lame excuses.
    02.02.13 11:40 PM
    @ Meera

    As always brilliantly written. I also like your take and argument on host nations holidays / festivals. I think anything that brings joy is worth celebrating regardless of it's origin. This is also the same as celebrating your neighbours birthday and leaving yours aside. I would still celebrate it if he was paying for drinks but then on the other hand I would do mine with style, if you see my point.

    Our identity is what makes us who we are today no matter where we live. You and I will always be Indian by our identity and heart whether we live in the UK or USA. In future we will be living on the moon but we will always be the people of the earth. If you see what I am saying. The day you lose your identity is the day you turn in to a faceless individual with no culture and no history. Therefore it is important that you celebrate our festival even when they turn up at the wrong day or the wrong time. What I don't like is the people who make the excuse saying I don't have time for things like this.


    PS Have a good one. :)

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