The festivals we celebrate mark celebrations of a special kind. They have been passed onto us from past generations and help us adhere to certain rules and customs of appeasing the deity. Merriment and togetherness is the soul of these festivals and the people celebrating them leave no stone unturned to make it a worthwhile affair.
Let’s take a look at some major festivals celebrated globally, explore their meanings and their changing significance in this 21st century.
Most people believe Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Lord Jesus Christ; as the Holy Bible has said. In older times, Christmas included only a mass at the church, recitation of hymns and giving alms to the poor.
But with changing times, came changes to this auspicious day too. Suddenly, a new character was introduced; we popularly refer to him as Santa Claus. He is believed to have been the bishop of Myra in Turkey.
He is said to have been very compassionate towards Children; it is in the 19th Century that America gave him the personality of a benevolent elderly person. We believe it’s a good thing, children love Christmas and celebrate it with full zeal and fervor. The only downside is Jesus Christ has been shifted into a secondary pedestal since Santa Claus steals all the attention. It is all good if people stay true to the lord and be happy with each other.
Diwali is an ancient festival which marks the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika as mentioned in the Padma Purana and the Skanda Purana. The diyas (lamps) which people light up in their homes are mentioned in Skanda Purana to symbolically represent parts of the sun, the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life, who seasonally transitions in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik. The Persian traveler and historian Al Biruni, in his 11th-century memoir on India, has also mentioned Deepavali being celebrated by Hindus on the New Moon day of the month of Kartika.
Hindus in some regions of India also associate Diwali with the legend of Yama and Nachiketa on Kartika Amavasya (Diwali night). The Nachiketa story about right versus wrong, true wealth versus transient wealth, knowledge versus ignorance is recorded in Katha Upanishad composed in 1st millennium BC.
King Harsha in the 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda mentions Deepavali as Deepapratipadutsava (Deepa = light, pratipada = first day, utsava = festival), where lamps were lit and newly engaged brides and grooms were given gifts. Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika in his 9th century Kavyamimamsa, wherein he mentions the tradition of homes being whitewashed and oil lamps decorating homes, streets and markets in the night.
In the most famous version, Diwali is venerated as the return of Lord Rama with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman back to their kingdom Ayodhya after living in exile for 14 years and having achieved victory over the cruel asura king of Lanka, Ravana. This festival is generally celebrated as the victory of good over evil and the homecoming of a king back to his homeland.
This festival is still under debate and no one knows exactly why we celebrate it. If history is to be believed, there was a priest called St. Valentine who served during the third century in Rome. He used to perform secret marriages for people in love albeit the ban on marriages and elopement imposed by Claudius II, the Emperor of Rome.
He was jailed for this and eventually died on 14th February 270 AD. Ever since the 14th century, this day became associated with love and people celebrated love in all its profoundness on this day.
In today’s scenario, however, Valentine’s Day has been reduced to a mere girlfriend-boyfriend love ritual. They meet, have dinner, exchange gifts and spend cozy time together. Most couples indulge in binge partying, meaningless one night stands and never really understand the meaning of this day.
They simply want to have fun. Sadly, the true essence of this day has been lost and it is now just a day where people buy roses at 10 times the price to gift their loved ones. True love knows no special day, it is a forever process!
There is a symbolic legend to explain why Holi is celebrated as a ‘festival of colors’ in the honor of Hindu Lord Vishnu and his ardent follower Prahlada. Apparently, King Hiranyakashipu was king of demonic Asuras. He had five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by Astra (projectile weapons) nor by any Shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. Eventually, he thought of himself as a God.
However, his own son, Prahlada refused to worship his father and stayed devoted to Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu couldn’t bear this insult and made a plan to kill his son. Prahlada’s aunt Holika, tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. She was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada wasn’t. In the sudden turn of events, Holika’s cloak enveloped Prahlada and saved him from the raging fire, whereas Holika was burnt to ashes! This is considered as the win of good over evil.
In another event, Vishnu took the form of Narasimha – half human and half lion, at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Hiranyakashyapu at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon).
New Year’s Day
Around the world, New Year’s festivities begin on December 31 (New Year’s Eve), the last day of the Gregorian calendar, and continue into the early hours of January 1 (New Year’s Day). In ancient times, Babylonians welcomed the first new moon of the vernal equinox as the heralding of the new-year called Akitu.
Julius Caesar introduced his own calendar called the Julian calendar in which he added 90 extra days to the year 46 B.C. in order to re-align it with the Sun’s position( it was later rectified many times to match the Gregorian calendar we follow now). In most civilizations, a new year is linked to a weather-related phenomenon or an agricultural harvest. Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending parties.
Today’s modern world celebrates New Year’s Day with great fervor and enthusiasm. Common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Year’s foods, making resolutions for the new year, watching fireworks displays and singing songs to welcome the New Year, including the ever-popular “Auld Lang Syne” in many English-speaking countries In Spanish-speaking countries, people ingest a dozen grapes symbolizing their hopes for the coming 12 months.
The practice of making resolutions for the New Year came from the ancient Babylonians, who made to earn the favor of the gods and start the year on a good note.
Even if these festivals of international value have undergone drastic changes due to modernity, they bind people together and promote a sense of brotherhood.
It is because of such merrymaking events that the mundane world still seems like a beautiful place to live in. You too should celebrate them with zeal and enthusiasm, after all, this life is small it’s up to us to make it large!