A festival is generally an annual event usually celebrating a characteristic feature of a community or its religion or cultural beliefs and usually centered on that feature. It can be a festive time marking a new year, a religious festival, a time of renewal such as Diwali or New Year’s Eve, or a time of hardship such as the downfall of a king. It is also regularly marked as a national or local holiday, festive event, or festive occasion. Even though festivals are common in most parts of the world, they differ in their time-honoring, tradition-setting, and impact on local society.
In India, for instance, Hindu festivals are seasonal, religious events which mark the beginning of the new academic year. The main Hindu festival, Diwali, which is also known as New Year’s Eve, is one of the biggest Hindu holidays. Other major Hindu festivals include Ganesh Chaturthi, which falls on the last day of the Hindu month of Magh (January) and is considered to be a joyous feast; Bhaiduj, which falls in mid-February and is the main Indian festival of happiness; Durga Puja, which is observed in the state of Gujarat in the third week of February; and Guru Nanak Jayanti, which is celebrated in the state of Punjab in the fourth week of February. Muslims mark another major festival with different traditions. Eid is one of the most important festivals for the Muslims all over the world. Eid celebrations begin with the call to prayers from mosques and other Islamic buildings and include a large number of other activities such as dance, music, food and fireworks.
The next question is how to best combine these festivals to celebrate good fortune, good health, prosperity and happiness. Each of these components is important in its own right. For instance, a celebration that focuses on Diwali, the festival of lights, should not take place at the beginning of the month of January, when people are starting to get ill. Similarly, it would not make sense for Muslims to start their fasting on a Friday evening, when everyone else is celebrating Shravan.
Therefore, we have decided to allow three weeks for each festival, so that the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs do not have to divide their time up too much.
But three weeks seems to be an awfully long period. It might be even more than that, given the tremendous range of possible festivals in a year. Suppose we assign three weeks for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day. It seems that the Indians can have their three weeks of rest and relaxation along with their major Hindu festival. It would be an ideal complement to the great Indian festive season, and it would help ensure that at least some of the Hindus got some time off from their grueling schedule of Hindu Yoga exercises, chanting, and fasting.
The other festivals are more or less fixed, like the Chinese New Year. But it is possible to vary them somewhat, to give them a more flexible character. After all, the variation of a festival depends entirely on the nature of its followers. If the followers have a lot of friends and relatives living abroad, they may choose to skip a few days and send their loved ones home. In this way, we can speak of a “fall” or “spring” festival for the Hindu.
And how about the Muslim and the Sikh? These are two major groups of people in the world, who have very different cultural roots. Both of them have had centuries to build their festivals around their national days and their historical moments, which are very different from the Hindu. It will be a great pity if such cultural differences are not respected, by not giving them their own cultural festivals as we have done here.