Why I Don't 'Teach' My Children About Our Festivals

04/11/2015 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Christopher Futcher via Getty Images
Children in a religious program


It is that time of the year, the time of festivals and festivities, the time of celebrations and joy and the time to make memories.

The dhak (drums), dhunuchi (a slow-burning coconut husk) and khichudi (a one pot meal of rice, lentils and vegetables) of the Durga Puja, the pumpkin-spiced everything, the diyas (lamps) and gujiyas (sweet stuffed pastry) and the Christmas tree. It is that time of the year where for the next three months life suddenly gets so much busier and happier.

Amidst all the festivities, there is also an onset of discussion among parents about teaching and making the younger generation, the kids, a part of the rituals and celebrations.

"How do we teach them and hand it down to them?"

I also often hear parents complaining about their children's non-interest and non-adherence to their culture and rituals. But what if we just raised our kids surrounded by our rituals and traditions without imposing them on the younger generation? How about we allow them to be mere observers?

Let me give you a glimpse of what happens at my home.

We as a family are madly fuzzy about celebrations. For instance my mother set the tradition of Navratris, something almost unheard in a Bengali household. So this time every year when the whole Bengali community is feasting ferociously, we are fasting. And we do so with no qualms every year.

On the other hand, my husband who is not a Bengali, is more excited than us about the Durga Puja festivities. His silk kurtas come to quick aid in camouflaging him in the world of Babu Moshais(Bengali gentlemen) and we often hear people approach and converse with him in Bengali. He promptly responds in a language he did not grow up speaking. The children are a witness to all of this and in their own way are learning to blend cultures, languages and rituals.

For nine straight days during Navratris, my daughter showers and dresses up early in the morning. She sits next to her grandmother, listening to the prayers or helps with the morning Navratri puja.

The morning aarti is done before she leaves for school. She cleans our little temple, offers flowers, gives handwritten notes to the goddess ("I need one extra laddoo today"), adorns the idol with a handmade necklace of beads. Every year both children accompany us to eat bhog and watch the sandhaya aarti and dhunuchi naach in the Durga Puja celebrations.

But just because my kids are watching what their grandmother does during Navratris or participating in Durga Puja or lighting up diyas during Diwali or decking up the tree with us, it does not mean they will adhere to all or any of that when they are old enough to make choices. But one thing I am sure of: it will all stay with them and it will allow them the freedom to make their own choices.

That is how I remember learning about the rituals and traditions. They were never dictated to me. What I do with my children today is from my own childhood memories of the festivals, it is from what I remember. It is not in a book. It was not handed down to me. It is something within me that comes very naturally because I grew up surrounded with it.

So enjoy the festive season with your kids and make them a part of all festivities. They are watching and thus learning everything around them. Ask them to do the little chores around festivals -- lighting the diyas, making the rangoli, decorating the house with flowers and helping with the varied delicacies we stir up during this season. All this will stay ingrained in their memory forever.

At my house, along with newer wardrobes, gastronomical binges, loads of mishti and mithai, tons of festivities, we look forward to another fun-filled festive season. Durga Puja is here, the lights for Diwali will go up in few days and will stay through Christmas and the rangoli /alpona on my doorstep will stay until Santa arrives. And then there will a brand new year to look forward to.

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