Religious holidays, however atheist you are, are a refreshing reprieve from everyday dullness. Even on days not assigned by your own god to go celebrate, you are happy to sit at home because, well, your college or office is shut that day. And of course, any deity’s birthday is a great excuse to bring out the fairy lights and wear your best dress and gorge on sweets.
While growing up I was happy to give up all festivals – that they may reinforce religious divides rattled me. But as I age, these same fests appear like multiple opportunities to embrace life.
From thinking that all religious celebrations acted superior to each other’s I’ve now veered to the idea that they are all mankind’s clever idea at inclusion. The clockwork regularity with which these annual occasions pop up on our calendar is an endearing familiarity.
So here comes another set of cheery days, with its own aura. There are going to be carols and plum cakes and little straw mangers and brightly lit up stars on balconies and even fat men dressed up in red going ho ho ho. We take it all in our stride and see beyond the tinsel to the very human attempt to jolly ourselves.
It is not just a chance to feast, to sing and dance, exchange gifts, or do a little charity that you’ve been postponing for ages – it is also the making of another memory, the marking of invisible time. Last Christmas this happened... just before next Christmas I will... At Christmas we always...
If not for these forced festivities how would we know to pinpoint events and happiness in our heads. So I’ve travelled 180 degrees from my childhood, no doubt influenced by my dad who was strict about nothing ever being celebrated, not even birthdays, in his dedication to simplicity and the very noble fight against extravaganza – to do it all with my children, who wait for any photo-op to put on record their merry moments. On Diwali lighting little mud lamps just outside our door, on Eid eating kheer, on Independence Day waving little replicas of the national flag, on Onam arranging flower petals into a pattern, and on Christmas some red wine, we try to do it all.
Think of the very first people to walk the earth, before any religion or nation was in place, wondering how to break the ice with others, which day was special enough to swap huge smiles and maybe some food, when to get together and just laugh, and visit each other’s cave or home or palace or hut. Then some caveman coined the word ‘party’.
With happiness in our hearts, with a song on our lips, pampering our taste-buds, for once not guilty about spending on ourselves and others, taking this chance to remind ourselves we are special because we are alive, can take a moment out of our busy, busy lives to thank the universe for still being around. A day or two through the year that we set aside our cribs and laments over what we lost, what we don’t have; a day or two through the year that we instead focus on what we got, what we do have.
Whatever be the official reason, all such days are actually just a pretext to celebrate the spirit of humankind.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.