In India, there was a time when almost every day of the year was a festival. Festival celebration was an aid to bring enthusiasm and happiness In the 1950s and prior to that, festivals were never restricted to family and friends, such was the importance of it. Culturally as well, if there is anything good happening in our family, like welcoming a newborn into this world, someone recovering from a serious illness, according to our beliefs we offer a prayer. There is more to prayer than visiting a temple. We celebrate the occasion by serving food to poor people, it’s called ‘anna daanam’ which literally translates to giving food to the needy. Giving what we have, what we can be considered holy.
In earlier days, there was a definitive way in which festivals were celebrated. Not just the festivals, birthdays, anniversaries were celebrated differently. To celebrate a birthday of kid, the kid was encouraged to distribute clothes to the needy. Blessings from poor people are the most important part than other things we do on that day. Sharing and caring for those who are in need were always part of our culture. Over time this has changed. The impact is that we are no more concerned about the poor.
Take Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations as an example. We never had 70 feet idols, 100 KG laddu’s (sweet treat) to celebrate the festival. Millions of rupees are spent on setting up the idol, maintaining it for a duration of 9 – 11 days. A festival that started as a family affair now is celebrated nationwide at a scale where billions of rupees are exchanged, if I may say so, billions of rupees are wasted.
The most recent Christmas. Earlier only Christians used to celebrate Christmas. Now almost people from all religions celebrate it, which is a good thing. Kids are all excited to decorate the Christmas tree and happily receive their gifts. I was at my friends’ place a couple of weeks before Christmas. My friend found a letter in her son’s room. “Dear Santa, you know I have been a good boy. I got good grades and haven’t bothered anyone. I would love mummy and daddy. Please give me the Nintendo switch and also new bicycle. Love you Santa”.
My friend came out of the room with a burst of big laughter and said, “See what he is asking for.. gifts worth more than 500$. Did we ever do that? We never even used to ask if we want something. Such was the discipline we were brought up in and these kids seem to take these gifts for granted. I want to teach him the value and he should earn the gift by doing something significant”. She made him pack all the old toys he was no more using and told him that she is gonna give away the toys to some other kids. He was not ready to share them, my friend convinced him saying he should let other kids play with those toys if he needs a new one. He reluctantly agreed at the end.
Holidays are about spreading the love. Holidays are about treating others with compassion. Nothing has changed from olden days to know about festivals or celebrations. What has changed is how we look at them. It is not buying new clothes, organizing grand parties, or party hard till late at night and wake up with a hangover. It is not buying costly gifts or toys for kids. Is there anyone who we can help? How about picking up your phone and inviting an old friend over lunch? Pay a visit to the dog shelter and give a shower to them? Buy clothes or food for someone in need. Spend some time with elders in old age home. Please don’t spend all the money and energy in gifting someone who may not be very grateful for it, instead help someone who really is in need of something. The fulfillment we get doing something to others is a greater joy than everything else.