Who, not what are we celebrating?

Diwali and Halloween have come together a day apart, this year.  Illuminating our homes to welcome guests for the former; hiding in darkness to get in the right “spirit” and spook visitors for the latter celebration.

By some accounts, Halloween marks the end of the harvest season and the start of winter.  Growing up in India we had not heard of Halloween but celebrated “Lohri”, the very popular harvest festival in the Punjab, which spelt the end of winter and the expected arrival of spring.  The festival of Lohri is usually celebrated on the same day – January 13, each year.  While its theme is analogous with the North American Thanksgiving, certain Lohri rituals resonate more with Halloween.   In a fashion replicating the “trick or treat” tradition, for Lohri children go from door to door singing folk songs in remembrance of Dulha Bhatti (a local “Robin Hood” according to folklore).  People would give these young visitors sweets and savories and sometimes, money.  This collection by children is actually known as Lohri.  Entire communities would gather around the ritualistic “holy fire” singing songs, performing skits, mimicry and comic routines.  People would take turns to cast peanuts, popcorn and other food items, as symbolic offerings to the God of Fire, Agni.  The “first Lohri” of a newborn in the family was considered particularly auspicious and a cause for special celebrations.

When we came to Canada, our kids were on the threshold of their teen years and Halloween generated a great deal of excitement.  We were equally intrigued by this “festival” especially since we were unable to obtain a ready explanation for its celebration.  Not that we cared, and readily joined in.  For the children, planning for elaborate costumes would start weeks in advance and only the closest friends were privy to the evolving strategies.  Our daughter then 15 years old, could “no way” be seen with her brother, 5 years younger.  There was also a competitive edge to who might gather more “loot” through the evening.

As the parents at home, we eagerly waited to be tricked while adequately stocking up to treat the neighborhood youngsters.  As we have now added our own grand kids to the troops moving about at Halloween, I have come to realize that this is also an opportunity for the mothers dressing up their little angels, to live vicariously.  It is nevertheless truly a pleasure to engage with a toddler when they appear on our doorstep perched on a parent’s shoulder, not knowing or caring who they are supposed to represent.  However, it is also a little disconcerting when youth crossing the wrong end of their teen years demand to be given a treat.

Diwali is now celebrated internationally with a lot of pomp and show (and noise, in India).  “Victory of Good over Evil” and several other explanations for celebrating Diwali are offered, although none is needed to enjoy the festivities.  Every family has its own rituals and ways in which they celebrate this very popular festival.  “Teen patti” (literally, “three cards” similar to the higher wager flush type of game) sessions start weeks in advance as urban legend has it that the one who does not gamble at Diwali will be born a dog in the afterlife.  Also, friends and family visit with each other and share elaborate meals and good times together, exchanging sweets and gifts.  On Diwali day, families usually offer prayers to the Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) while also taking care to propitiate other preferred, favorite family gods and goddesses to seek favors and blessings.

I find it amusing that while explicitly offering Diwali greetings on the one hand, we are somewhat disingenuous with the “Happy Holidays” subterfuge on the other.  Any celebratory event can only be enjoyable and fulfilling if the heart and soul of all those participating, goes into it.  Rituals remain merely that.  Would it not be more fun if the “Halloween mask” used daily to adapt our persona to cope with people, situations and even our own true feelings could be discarded?  Relationships would be honest and like children we could then, without demarcation savor Lohri, Halloween, Diwali, Christmas, Eid, Hannukah or any of the occasions that offer us the opportunity to spread our arms and embrace “the other” for a meaningful celebration of not just festivals, but life itself.

“Muddat hui hai yaar ko mehmaan kiye huye

Josh-e-qadaah se bazm charaaghan kiye huye”

[It has been a long time since I had my friend (beloved) over as my guest

The warmth of the goblet (serving as the lamp) that illumines the assemblage] – Mirza Assadulla Khan Ghalib

One Reply to “Who, not what are we celebrating?”

  1. After 40 years in Canada, I am yet to really “get into” Halloween – perhaps, because growing up in Tanzania, stories of darkness and danger (ghosts, snakes, and not to mention the occasional distant laugh of the hyena!) kept one close to the circle of light. Diwali was another experience altogether – we would wait for the thali of sweets from our Hindu neighbours and watch the fireworks the great joy!


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