Archive for the 'holidays' Category


makar sankranti.

kite string.

Today marks the festival of Makar Sankranti, the much loved kite-flying festival celebrated across India.  Last year we enjoyed watching the preparations leading up to the festivities.  You can read more about the festival and see some colorful photos by checking out this post.



For the past two days Sam and I have been glued to the TV, watching the news of the hostage drama unfolding in south Bombay.  We have been so moved by the incredible suffering being experienced there- the hostages and their families, families mourning the loss of loved ones, and families that will learn of their losses in the coming hours.  But I must also remind myself of the suffering experienced by the hostage-takers and their families.  To dehumanize them is to perpetuate the isolation and ignorance that spawned their actions.  To advocate further violence against them does not fundamentally change what has occurred nor prevent similar activity in the future.  Violent retribution may provide a temporary release for our collective fear, vulnerability, powerlessness, insecurity, or sense of injustice.  But is does not relieve the true suffering.

So, what do we do?   

I say we because I do believe the solution lies in our collective efforts.  The world needs activists as well as scholars.  We need teachers and doctors, selfless service and financial commitment.  We need spiritual leaders who stand up and denounce terrorism and violence in its many forms.   

More than ever, we need compassion.

Yesterday Sam and I celebrated a non-traditional Thanksgiving with a quiet sushi dinner for two at a  local restaurant.  We needed a break from the constant news coverage, but sitting at  the dinner table we found we could think of nothing else.  We remembered everyone directly affected by the tragedy.  We speculated about a resolution to the stand-off.  We were grateful beyond words for the blessings in our own lives that are too numerous to count.  Our reflection certainly was a true Thanks-Giving.  

We also wondered aloud about our social responsibility.  What can we do to promote tolerance?  How can we work for social justice?  How can society be transformed?  Right now I have only questions, not answers.  I welcome your comments and suggestions.  How do you work for social justice?  What do you think needs to be changed?

 What is your vision for a better world?


the legend of diwali, festival of light.

Once upon a time, King Dasaratha ruled the prosperous kingdom of Ayodhya.  The King was blessed with four sons from his three wives: Rama, son of Kaushalya, was the eldest boy and heir to the throne of Ayodhya.  Bharat (son of second wife Kaikeyi), Lakshman and Shatrugan (twin sons of Sumitra) enjoyed the strong bonds of brotherhood.  Together the four boys mastered the mental and physical challenges presented by their teachers.

Eventually the King became too old and weak to rule the kingdom, so he named Rama as his successor.  All the citizens of Ayodhya were elated as they prepared for the coronation ceremony.  Second Queen Kaikeyi, however, was jealous that Rama would receive all the glory while her own son Bharat would have nothing.  Kaikeyi began scheming and plotting a way to have her own son crowned king. 

On the eve of Rama’s coronation Kaikeyi called King Dasaratha into her chambers.  She reminded him that he had vowed to grant her two wishes after she had saved his life many years ago.  The king remembered his vow, of course, and pledged once again to grant her wishes.  Kaikeyi then calmly told the King she wanted him to banish Rama for fourteen years and name her son Bharat as ruler of Ayodhya.  King Dasaratha was filled with sadness.  Although he did not want to rob Rama of his birthright, he was compelled to fulfill his promise to Kaikeyi.

Upon hearing his father’s decision Rama calmly accepted his fate and promised to fulfill his dharma (duty) by living out the term of his banishment.  Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshman insisted on following Rama into exile, so the three began their journey south into the wild forest where they would live for fourteen years.

During their long exile Rama, Sita, and Lakshman fought many battles and performed countless heroic deeds.  They cemented alliances with the tribes and animals living in the forest.  Their reputation spread until nearly everyone had heard of their courage and fairness.

Fourteen years passed and finally the time arrived for the threesome to begin their journey back to Ayodhya.  But on the eve of their departure a great tragedy occurred.  Sita was captured by Ravana, the evil Lord of Lanka, and was taken to his lair in his kingdom south of India. 

When Rama and Lakshman discovered that Sita had been kidnapped, they appealed to their friends in the forest for help.  Legions of humans and animals came to their aid, building a great bridge across the sea to the land of Lanka.  In a bloody and violent battle that lasted more than ten days Rama and his army defeated Ravana, Lord of Lanka.

Finally Rama was reunited with his wife Sita.  Together with Lakshman they began their journey north to claim Rama’s rightful place as the King of Ayodhya.  Word of their glorious victory had spread and they were greeted by celebrations in every village and city they entered. 

 The kingdom of Ayodhya had planned an elaborate festival for the return of the King, his wife, and his brother.  The entire kingdom was ablaze with light as every building and home was decorated with lamps and candles.  There was a great feast that included dancing and fireworks.

During the festival of Diwali we remember Rama’s triumphant return to his kingdom.  We celebrate his faithfulness and courage.  As we light candles and hang lamps in our windows, we welcome the light of knowledge and virtue into our homes and hearts.


mountain day!

Dorm rooms and hallways were filled with speculation about Mountain Day as September drew to a close.  Would tomorrow be the morning we woke to hear the chapel bells chiming, signaling our day of recreation?  

According to Mount Holyoke College legend*, Mountain Day was started by a few students who woke one morning to an absolutely dazzling day.  They just simply couldn’t bear to attend classes when the sunshine was so spectacular and weather so pleasant.  They skipped school that day to hike to the top of Skinner Mountain, basking in the glory of nature.  The following year they did it again, and this time they were joined by more students.  The tradition continued until the college was forced to recognize it as a holiday because the classrooms were nearly empty.  So Mountain day was born, the day when classes are cancelled, exams re-scheduled, and the campus virtually shuts down until sunset. 

Every year, we watched the weather reports, knowing the college president wouldn’t dare to pick an overcast or rainy day.  And it had to be before the start of hunting season because it just wouldn’t be safe to send a legion of young women into the wilds of Skinner State Park during hunting season.  We debated about how much work we should do for the next day, bargained how late we could go to bed, and eagerly made plans for our day of freedom.  Rising early to hike or catching up on much-needed sleep, paper bag lunch from the kitchen or ladies’ day in Northampton, shelving textbooks or getting (further) ahead on assignments.  Whatever students decided, one thing was always included in the day’s plans- cider and donuts at Atkins Farm.     

There always came a point when Mountain Day dominated dining hall conversation.  Finally, when it seemed that maybe the college president wouldn’t actually announce Mountain Day that year, the chapel bells would chime.    


* Click here to read the true legend of Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke College.

Dedicated to all my MoHo sisters.  Happy Mountain Day!




ganesh chaturthi.

Once upon a time the god Shiva was called away from home for a very long time.  His wife Parvati became quite lonely in his absence and decided to create a child to keep her company.  Using her perspiration to moisten the earth, she fashioned a boy from the mixture.  Parvati and her son spent every moment together.  

One morning Parvati decided to go for a bath, and instructed her son to guard their home.  She told him not to allow anyone to enter.  Her son dutifully stood at the gate and watched over the home.  It was then that Shiva returned from his journey only.  Naturally he didn’t recognize his son, because he’s been created in Shiva’s absence.  When the boy refused to allow him to enter, Shiva severed the boy’s head.  

Parvati emerged and was horrified at what her husband had done.  She cried in grief and explained how she had created the boy from her own sweat.  Shiva was filled with regret.  He promised Parvati that he would restore the boy to life.  Shiva then went from the home, determined to bring back a head for his son.  The first creature he encountered was an elephant, so he killed the animal and brought the head home. He fused the elephant’s head to his son’s body, reanimating the boy.


The son of Parvati and Shiva was called Ganesh.  This beloved elephant-headed deity is the god of wisdom, good fortune, and auspicious beginnings.  His name is invoked at pujas before any new project.  The likeness of Ganesh adorns many Indian homes.  

This week marks the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of Ganesh.  Many Hindus bring a statue of Ganesh (Ganpati) into their homes, a symbol of welcoming good fortune and wisdom.  Families perform daily pujas and welcome guests who come to acknowledge the presence of the god at home.  The puja period may last longer than a week, at the end of which the family releases the god by submerging the statue in the sea.  Many communities perform the puja and submersion in public spaces. 


raksha bandhan.

There are times in my experience when a strange and sultry dream image is mirrored with remarkable clarity in my waking life.  As I surfaced through the hazy space between dreaming and wakefulness recently, I reached for the wisps of a fading dream. The whisper of Hollywood director David Lynch echoed through my mind, “The vermilion thread cannot be broken. We are the vermilion thread.” I quickly reached for my dream journal and scribbled the enigmatic message. 

Curious about the reference, I investigated cross-cultural allusions to vermilion thread. Buddhists believe that red thread symbolizes the life blood of passion; it is that which creates and nourishes life. A red thread bestowed upon Hindu boys of the Brahman caste gives them access to ancient knowledge.  In Judaism wearing a red thread signals an intention to remain open to receiving God’s grace and protection. An ancient Chinese belief affirms that an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.    

On  Saturday we celebrated the Hindu holiday of Raksha Bandhan, which honors and reaffirms family bonds.  Tying a vermilion thread around a brother’s wrist, a girl reminds her brother of his obligation to protect her in times of need.  This simple gesture is one that transcends culture and family connections, however, as it reminds us of the ties that bind us all to each other.