With the Indian festival of lights or “Diwali” around the corner, the festive season continues with its share of merry making, rejoicing, shopping and lots of binge eating of course! However, while all of us dwell in all these superficial aspects of merrymaking, we need to understand that festivals are about celebrating something bigger. It’s a momentarily pause to connect with something deeper, maybe it’s an excuse where one needs to halt and reflect!
As parents, I feel it’s all the more crucial that we ponder upon the hidden deeper meaning of festivals as we hold the reins of passing the knowledge of rituals, values and history behind every festival to our children. If the deeper meaning is not explained to the child, then it’s likely that they will be mere victims of faith and will end up following the tradition blindly. In this age of religious intolerance, where religious and cultural rifts are rife, we need to do something to ensure that the future has better tolerance and acceptance towards every religion and faith. Festivals are the celebration of diversity and choosing these moments to sensitize our children can be a good start to lay the foundation of peace and harmony amongst all.
I’m a Hindu, married to a Sikh and hence, visualize my child to appreciate and believe in both these religions, their religious practices and festivals. Although, I’m still naïve, but I’m still getting onto latching the minute details in and around the festivals, especially with some research and reading. I don’t claim to be doing all this because I wish to raise a son, who can either propagate Sikhism or Hinduism, but simply a tolerant and a noble human being, who can accept and appreciate people across diverse religions, faith and ethnicities. To help him and myself a little better on this path, I ensure that I celebrate as many festivals as I can, with some elements of fun and frolic thrown in, to enjoy and get a better meaning of the same.
And this won’t happen unless, I, as a parent, take the initiative to understand and celebrate the inner spirit of the festival.
Also the onus of celebrating the festivals the right way, is greatly thrust upon us. We, the parents, because of living in nuclear families, are by and large, away from our extended families. Usually it’s grandparents or some uncles and aunts, who used to brush up our knowledge and indulge in storytelling behind each of these festivals. However, now relatives make time only on special occasions and mostly children are left with the parents alone. So, to help them feel a strong connect with you and to the festival, it’s crucial you do something that creates happy memories in their mind.
Another add on of celebrating festivals are that they teach the children about how to live in a culturally diverse community, while deriving fun and happiness from each other’s festivals. This ingrained value is what makes the people more agreeable, sociable and friendly towards each other, a quality I believe is crucial for that building of ‘social skills’. This very idea of accepting and enjoying with others, in their moments of happiness, is a great favor to ourselves, as doing well to others generates a greater feeling of peace and happiness within.
To savor this happiness, it’s important that children learn the hidden message behind each of this festivals, which usually get lost behind the pomp and show of the festivals. For instance, “Diwali” is much more beyond lighting candles or earthen lamps. The festival history celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom after serving fourteen years in exile, but symbolically it’s the celebration of good over evil as Lord Rama had done the same by slaying the demon Ravana.
Even festivals like ‘Ramadan’ and ‘Christmas’, have much more meaning than mere fasting or celebrating the birth of Jesus respectively. For Ramadan, behind the fasting lingers more serious and much more meaningful values of self-regulation, gratitude for whatever we have and above all being kind to everyone around, including the poor. Similarly, Christmas is the time to celebrate the essence of love and the joy of giving and forgiving.
All festivals provide opportunity to reflect and think about a deeper meaning of life. Helping the children understand the same will open the doors to creating a better human being out of them. Festivals can teach human values like empathy, kindness, sharing, gratitude and much more. Simultaneously, it will help them understand different cultures, belief systems, and ritualistic practices pertaining to the same. It makes them knowledgeable (they learn about mythology, history), accepting towards diverse cultures and highly social (it helps to break the ice and foster cross-cultural relationships).
Also festivals help children mark the cycle of a year or the rhythm of a year with certain seasonal festivals. They look forward to seasons and the celebrations around them through festivals. The festivals time are looked up to as a break from the monotony, a cheering phase, a moment to halt and revel in traditions and rituals. Hence, every festival marks a change of sorts. As long as we, the parents and educators, can look beyond the superficial layers of the festival, we will do justice to both ourselves and to our children, in terms of teaching something substantial, while deriving happiness from the same.
Hence, this festive season, choose the festive moments to talk to children about the importance of festivals, importance of using certain typical elements associated with a festival and other customary rituals. Indulge in that making of peculiar customary food. Who knows you might just stumble upon an interesting story from your own childhood and help your child connect with the same. After all, these festivals are also opportunities to build memories. Hence, help your child build some fond memories, while at the same time teaching him something valuable and worth celebrating!