Before You Dive Into Reading: I strive for transparency with my readers and want to acknowledge my identity and background. I am a white, heterosexual woman of Christian faith. My perspectives, while continuously evolving, are inevitably shaped by my specific—and sometimes limited—knowledge, experiences, and inherent biases. I’m passionately committed to my ongoing learning journey and to fostering self-awareness. I warmly welcome and deeply appreciate other viewpoints and examples, as they offer invaluable opportunities for my growth and broader understanding. I invite you to engage in a dialogue with me, one that uplifts and educates us all. Thank you.
When the festive music starts playing and the air is tinged with the aroma of delicious delicacies, it signals the onset of another celebration. Yet, while celebrations are synonymous with joy, unity, and revelry, not all are free from underlying tensions. The histories and origins of certain holidays have sparked debates, and for some, what may be a day of celebration is a reminder of painful histories and colonization.
Take #Thanksgiving, for instance. For many, it’s a time to express gratitude, gather with loved ones, and share a hearty meal. But for the Native American community, it’s a stark reminder of the struggles and oppression their ancestors faced at the hands of European settlers. So how can we, as culturally sensitive and inclusive individuals, navigate such celebrations?
First, it’s essential to acknowledge that controversies surrounding celebrations are a global issue, and addressing them requires a collective, worldwide effort.
Here are some examples:
Australia Day: Celebrated on January 26th, it marks the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in 1788. For Indigenous Australians, it’s a reminder of the violence, disease, and land dispossession that followed the British colonization.
Columbus Day (USA): Celebrated in honour of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. Many criticize it due to Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans, and several states now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in its place.
Diwali: A major Hindu festival celebrated by millions worldwide, Diwali has faced criticism from environmentalists due to the extensive use of firecrackers, leading to air pollution.
Victory Day (Russia): Celebrated on May 9th, it commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. While it’s a day of immense national pride for Russians, in neighboring nations like the Baltic States, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, and others, it’s viewed differently, as it marks the beginning of Soviet occupation.
Bastille Day (France): Celebrated on July 14th, it marks the French Revolution’s beginning. However, the revolution led to the Reign of Terror, with thousands executed, making it a contentious holiday for some who remember the violence that ensued.
Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel): Israel’s Independence Day is a joyous occasion for many Israelis, but for Palestinians, it’s remembered as Nakba Day (“Day of Catastrophe”), marking their displacement in 1948.
Vesak (Buddhist countries): Celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha, Vesak is the most important date in the Buddhist calendar. However, in countries where there’s tension between Buddhists and other religious groups, Vesak can sometimes accentuate religious divides.
Day of the Dead (Mexico): While many celebrate it to remember deceased loved ones, there are concerns about its commercialization and potential appropriation as it gains popularity outside of Mexican culture.
Black Pete (Netherlands): Part of the St. Nicholas Day celebrations, Black Pete is a character who is traditionally portrayed by white people in blackface. It’s highly controversial due to its racist connotations, and while many Dutch people see it as a harmless tradition, others view it as a painful reminder of colonialism and racial prejudice.
Why The Mixed Feelings?
It’s vital to grasp the reasons behind the mixed feelings that some celebrations evoke. Central to this is the contrast between festive occasions and the distressing historical truths they may encompass. Engaging in these celebrations without fully comprehending or recognizing their complete history can lead us to overlook vital aspects of the past. By doing so, we inadvertently continue to spread and reinforce damaging stories and interpretations. Taking the time to delve deeper into these histories ensures that we celebrate with awareness and respect, bridging gaps of understanding and fostering genuine unity.
Navigating celebrations with cultural sensitivity is both an art and a responsibility.
First and foremost, it’s essential to educate yourself. Before immersing yourself in any festivity, take the time to grasp its history and significance; after all, genuine respect begins with understanding.
As you journey through this process, it’s crucial to listen actively. Engage in meaningful conversations, paying special attention to the viewpoints of communities most impacted by the historical events tied to the celebration.
As we recognize the diverse sentiments attached to these occasions, there’s an opportunity to adapt celebrations. Rather than sticking to traditional norms, consider embracing methods that honor a broader range of perspectives.
Moreover, it’s invaluable to engage in reflective practices. Pose introspective questions to yourself: What does this celebration signify to me? How can I partake in a manner that respects my values and those of others?
Finally, it’s our collective responsibility to promote inclusive narratives. By promoting narratives that capture every aspect of a celebration’s history, we foster mutual respect and understanding.
Choice is ever-present.
We choose how we perceive history, how we interact with it, and how we move forward. While celebrating, we must acknowledge the full spectrum of emotions that these days bring up for various communities. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing things in binaries—good or bad, right or wrong. However, just as everything in life is colourful and multifaceted, celebrations too reflect a vibrant spectrum of emotions and histories. The key is to navigate them with an open mind and a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue. Only through open-mindedness, respect, and understanding can we pave the way for a future that’s inclusive and harmonious for our children.
Let’s remember the words of the legendary Maya Angelou:
In conclusion, I want to remind everyone that October is Global Diversity Awareness Month, shining a spotlight on the variety of cultures, traditions, and narratives that weave the fabric of our global community.
This weekend (Thanksgiving weekend in Canada), let’s take a moment to express our gratitude for the immense diversity that enriches our lives. It’s this very diversity, with its myriad cultures, traditions, and histories, that paints our world with vibrant colours and endless intricacies. After all, it’s the spectrum of human experiences that makes our world so beautiful.