A mom's-eye view of festival
- Children’s enthusiasm for celebrating festivals often rubs off on jaded parents
- If you live in a big apartment complex, the neighbourly love is easily organized
Before my daughter came into my life nine years ago, I regarded festivals as a legitimate reason to consume alcohol or the perfect time of year to escape the city and avoid those twin irritants: dress up and meet extended family. But cynicism is lost on children, especially when it is directed at days when they have a school holiday, a free pass to wear colourful new clothes, get a sugar rush and be boisterous. Their enthusiasm can be infectious. Besides, who dares pit herself against Santa Claus.
My daughter’s love for festivals has grown with her. She understands that if she tells Ishrat aunty she loves the mutton biryani her favourite neighbour sends over every Eid, she will get a regular supply through the year. Festivals have taught her to explore. Like that time she was 4 and her father took her on his shoulders to the Ramzan food stalls to try a bit of everything, including some kebabs made of camel meat.
She has figured that festivals are the time she can do things that are usually off limits, like violently ring the little brass bell on Ganesh Chaturthi as the grandparents peer into a tattered copy of Aarti Sangrah and sing. Nobody objects when she dunks a mud idol into a bucket of water and watches fixedly as it slowly disappears. Her favourite festive activity is when she gets to squirt coloured water on her mother, who, miracle of miracles, laughs when she’s soaked. Festivals are the best time to learn about her friends’ different faiths—and in new India, this is a lesson every parent should be focused on imparting.
In school, my child’s vocabulary is built courtesy festivals—non-toxic, recycle, anti-pollution, give. Every Diwali, her choir director Maya Mascarenhas, a medical doctor who somehow finds the time to whip an eclectic group of 125 people (from infants to seniors) into a harmonious whole, organizes a concert to raise money for a different children’s charity.
Mascarenhas’ Bangalore Chorus does a ticketed show and donates the proceeds, making the idea of festive giving a participative reality for my child. The fun continues during Christmas, when the choir spreads cheer by singing on the road, in the park, or even at the airport.
The festive season—which, according to marketers, begins with Durga Puja and ends with Christmas—is a great time to milk all sorts of lessons for your children. I asked three moms from my daughter’s class to tell me how they viewed festivals differently after they became parents.
“Diwali is my chance to be the neighbour who does stuff, to be the rallying point for people," says Priya Rao, who makes this day a community celebration. The potluck, firecrackers and prayers go hand-in-hand with lessons about being eco-friendly. “Because you are aware that another generation is watching and learning, you want to tell them about civic values too," adds Rao who also plans to give her two daughters, aged 9 and 12,a money lesson by explaining why domestic workers have the right to an annual bonus.
If you live in a big apartment complex, the neighbourly love is easily organized. Pooja Mangharam says her apartment complex is big on festivals, celebrating everything from Janmashtami to Christmas. This time of the year, there are garba classes, a festive flea market in which the children get to be entrepreneurs, and many other cultural events.
You may roll your eyes but Halloween has been a favourite addition to the urban Indian festive calendar for a few years now. “The kids plan their costumes in advance and the mothers are enthusiastic about scary make-up for the children," Mangharam says.
For Meera Alva, a Tamilian Brahmin married to a Christian from Mangaluru, it was important for the family to create their own personal mix of traditions and rituals for their two children. “When you have a child, you really want them to have the ritual of looking forward to a celebration, the excitement that builds up, the emotional aspect of it, the essence of joy associated with it. Everything is different and fun, and created by us. We love to celebrate," she says.
Diwali and Christmas are the two big festivals in Alva’s household. Around Diwali, everything is a family activity—shopping for new clothes, painting diyas, applying mehndi, decorating the house with marigold flowers, hosting card parties and having people over. The menu invariably includes chana bhatura (a fond memory from the couple’s dating days) and prawn biryani.
Christmas, too, is centred around food. There’s the tradition of the family Christmas lunch at the in-laws’ home. Alva’s daughter Manini, 13, is a baker and she makes packets of Christmas-themed buttercream cookies for every family member. “I inherited a 100-year-old crib from my dad and we recreate the whole nativity scene in that. The children may add a couple of animals that may not have existed in that time, and on Christmas Day, we bring Jesus to the crib," says Meera. There’s always a Christmas party with a tree decorated by the family and lots of carol singing—the family preps hard and the guests get printouts of songs.
These past few years, I have been trying to embrace the festive season for my daughter. This year, I have outdone myself. Last week, I ordered a cake online for a friend in another city and bought a glittery red and purple Mangalagiri sari for Diwali. My daughter’s words were echoing in my head: “You can’t wear your boring normal clothes! Dress in something fancy please." Who is teaching whom festive lessons, I sometimes wonder.
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