In an increasingly globalizing world, a child in India not only celebrates Diwali but also Halloween. A child in Australia not only celebrates Christmas but also experiences Diwali. Road signs in Western countries read "Diversion ahead due to Ganesh Chaturthi procession." The great thing about this is that it promotes an understanding and hopefully a tolerance of other cultures, rituals, ceremonies and traditions. In a world where intolerance and religious disputes are rife, teaching children about other cultures and their festivals can help build a more peaceful world. This will only hold true, however, if we bring the depth of understanding to the rituals that festivals are marked by.
If the deeper meaning and import of each festival is not explained to the child, he or she will grow up not knowing the true meaning and follow tradition blindly...
In an increasingly commercialized world, festivals have become more about gifting, buying chocolates, wearing new clothes and bursting crackers. Many companies benefit from this and sales in stores spike during festive times. Encouraging children to celebrate a festival without an understanding of its deeper significance is of little benefit. The rituals that exist in each of the festivals are a tangible way of experiencing an abstract concept. However, the basic essence is often lost as most rituals are handed down generation to generation with no understanding. A school that my son attended sent me a note to send 50 apples as his contribution to the class's Halloween party. The concept, history and origin of Halloween difficult to teach a 8 year old and the festival for the large part is fun for kids—a chance to make art and go "trick or treating." So far, so good, but a ritual that went against my core values as a parent (and the values I wanted to imbibe in my son) was the "bobbing of apples." How does one allow the bruising and waste of 50 apples in a city like Mumbai? That would amount to me teaching him that it is okay to play with food in a city where so many children don't have enough to eat.
It can be a great thing to celebrate festivals and important days that were not always a part of one's culture and tradition—Halloween, Mother's day, Father's Day, Women's Day, Grandparent's Day etc all have their place. However it is very essential that we understand the meaning of these festivals and days and not just fall into the trap of commercialization.
Now let us understand one thing—in the 21 century we live in nuclear families, often in small apartments, and the concept of joint families has by and large gone. Children meet their grandparents, relatives and cousins only on special occasions, and if these days are not celebrated they will not be able to build strong bonds with them.
The fact is that we are social animals, but have isolated ourselves in our quest to win the rat race. Our children thus lose out on family connections, on building a relationship with their cousins and other relatives. This is the biggest reason for us to embrace festivals—they give us a reason to bond with family and friends. As parents it is our responsibility that we do some research on these festivals and take the effort of explaining the meaning behind celebrating each one of them. It is not just about the rituals we follow, but also the history and the values associated with each festival.
It is not just about the rituals we follow, but also the history and the values associated with each festival.
For example, Diwali celebrated to symbolize the return of Ram to his kingdom after the vanquishing of Ravan. The essence of this festival is the victory of good over evil. This is the quality children need to imbibe. It is just as important for children to understand the celebration in the context of today. Talk to children about Diwali being about "light." Talk to them about crackers—the fact that in most cases cheap child labour is used to manufacture firecrackers at a great health risk to the children. Talk to children about noise, air and light pollution and the impact the crackers have on the environment.
Teach children about the intent of the month of Ramadan. That it is not about torturing yourself physically through food deprivation and then enjoying a feast every evening. The essence of fasting is to practice self-control, self-regulation, being thankful for your blessings and giving to the poor.
The same goes for Christmas—there's more to it that celebrating the birth of Jesus and then merry-making. Christmas is about the essence of love, it is about the spirit of giving and forgiving, it is about reflecting and thinking about the meaning of life.
I've covered some of the major festivals here, but the same goes for every other one there is as well. If the deeper meaning and import of each festival is not explained to the child, he or she will grow up not knowing the true meaning and follow tradition blindly...
Festivals can help us teach empathy and kindness to children, whist also enhancing their knowledge and understanding of different cultures and communities.
Ultimately, festivals are important (especially for children) because they teach us about how to live in a community and celebrate and share each other's happiness. They show us how to share with the less fortunate and be thankful for our blessings. Festivals can help us teach empathy and kindness to children, whist also enhancing their knowledge and understanding of different cultures and communities.
Along with parents, even schools should take the responsibility of sending out the right message and educating children about festivals through stories, plays and videos. Another good idea to educate children in schools is to make them research about different festivals; the teachers should then hold discussions to help the children's understanding and to help them imbibe the values behind each occasion. For example, ways to stimulate discussion would be to create a worksheet covering various facets of Diwali including the less desirable ones—such as the burning of firecrackers. Once you talk about this, make your students list down the negative effects of firecrackers.
So to conclude, whether it's at home or school, children should be taught that spirituality is the soul of all religions.