Many cultures are present in the United States. These cultures have been defining parts of American society. They have become a major part of our society, enriching the cultural diversity of this country. As the holiday season is just a few weeks away, The Buchtelite thought it’d be interesting to learn how people from different cultures celebrate cultural holidays. Here’s an account of various festivals celebrated by people around the world.
One of the most important festivals in China is the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. It is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated for 15 days starting on the Eve of the New Year. One prominent legend that explains the origin of this festival involves a monster named Nian, which was known to eat children and livestock. People decorated their homes in red and set off firecrackers to fight this monster, and this tradition has been carried forward through the ages. On the New Year’s Eve, people decorate their homes by pasting red couplets and red paper cuts of animals. They celebrate togetherness by hosting dinners for friends and family. Dumplings or rice cakes are cooked and served on the occasion of this festival. The New Year’s Day is celebrated with firecrackers and traditional performances like dragon dance, lion dance and emperor’s wedding. Gifts are exchanged and red envelopes with money are given to children and retired seniors as a gesture of passing good luck. “Today, this tradition has taken the form of electronic red cards that are shared on smartphones. We send red packs on smartphones even on other special occasions like birthdays,” Xiaojing Fang, a graduate student from China, said. The Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month marks the end of this festival. This day is celebrated by lighting and appreciating lanterns, guessing answers to puzzles written on them, and by eating tangyuan – a dessert made from glutinous rice flour.
One of the most prominent festivals associated with the holiday season in India is Dussehra. As per the Hindu calendar, it falls on the tenth day of the month Ashvin and is celebrated with great pomp and vigor in all parts of India. It is believed that on this day, Lord Ram triumphed over the ten-headed demon king, Raavan. Giant effigies of Raavan are set aflame, symbolizing the destruction of evil. Dramatic depictions of the story of Lord Ram are also commonly witnessed in many regions. Some people also believe that Dussehra marks the victory of Goddess Durga over an evil demon, Mahishasura. This day is therefore preceded by 9 days of worship of Goddess Durga in her various forms. Colorful processions of idols of the Goddess are held in the streets. “People get together in community gatherings and celebrate this festival by performing folk dances like Dandiya Raas and Garba. Playgrounds and banquet halls are reserved to organize these gatherings,” Siddhartha Surabathula, a graduate student from India, said. Some families also celebrate Dussehra by organizing a display of dolls. In some regions, it also takes the form of a floral festival called Bathukamma. Women dance in circles around beautiful floral arrangements, singing praise to Goddess Durga who epitomizes strength and power.
Goddess Durga is also worshipped by the Nepalese in a 15-day festival called Dashain. On the tenth day, the elders bless the younger ones by applying a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermillion on their foreheads, and give them money called Dakshin as a gift. Flying colorful kites and playing cards are major aspects of the celebration. Small fairs featuring rides for children are also organized in the villages. Swings called ping are constructed with bamboo sticks for children to enjoy. On the 15th day, called Kojagrata Purnima, people stay awake all night and worship Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. It’s believed that the Goddess would shower her blessings on whoever stays awake all night.
Eid al-Fitr is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Muslims all over the world. This day marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The exact date of Eid al-Fitr cannot be predicted as it depends on the sighting of the moon. The sighting day varies based on geographical location and does not usually occur during the same month every year. People usually start this day with a small sweet breakfast. They wear new clothes and gather in mosques or open areas for prayer. After the prayer, they exchange Eid greetings and visit friends and family. “We usually have all three meals with family. Children receive money from elders. They can spend this money on anything they like. In our country, they usually spend the money in small fairs that are organized during Eid,” Nour Elsheemy, an undergraduate student from Egypt, said. Donating alms to the poor and needy is also an important part of this festival. Eid festivities vary from one country to the other. In Saudi Arabia, it is customary to get together in patriarchal homes after prayer. Some areas in Saudi also host large community meals. In Turkey, it is an important tradition to honor the elderly by kissing their right hand and placing it on one’s forehead while sharing Eid greetings. In some parts of Central and South Asia, families celebrate Eid by cooking special Eid delicacies like sheer khurma, jalebi, kebabs etc. Some communities celebrate Eid with family by going to parks and setting up campfires. Though the celebrations greatly vary, one value that is seen commonly in all countries during Eid is generosity.
Diversity is a great feature of our society. As President Wilson said in his Diwali message to the Indian Students Association, “Diversity of cultures makes the world a more beautiful, and a better place to live in.” This article is our humble attempt to celebrate diversity. In hope that you recognize and celebrate diversity along with us. The Buchtelite wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving.