Holidays bring cultural connections

By Michael Evans Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/13 17:18:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

Earlier this week, China celebrated the traditional "Laba Festival." I first heard about this festival when I moved to Beijing five years ago, and since then, I've attended celebrations every year.

This year, as I usually do, I went to eat the free Laba porridge served by the monks at Yonghe Temple. I chatted with other visitors at the temple who were surprised to see a foreigner attending this quintessentially Chinese event. As I talked with them, I found out that there was a lot I didn't know about this holiday that I had been celebrating for years.

In my experience, Laba porridge is mostly given out at Buddhist temples, so I always assumed the festival's significance was due to its celebration of the enlightenment of the Buddha. I never realized that even to non-Buddhists, this day has deep meaning, marking the end of the coldest winter days and expressing their hope for a warm and prosperous spring.

This experience led me to ask myself when celebrating a holiday, especially one that doesn't belong to your own culture, is it truly necessary to understand its full meaning? This is certainly a relevant question not only for me, but for countless people in a world where traditions are constantly changing and customs are exchanged between countries and cultures.

All across China, millions of people celebrate Christmas without knowing almost anything about Christianity. In other counties, people celebrate Christmas with customs that are completely disconnected from the origins of the holiday. I've read that in Japan, for example, families gather together to eat fried chicken.

When my friends, both Chinese and foreign, talk about this phenomenon, they usually complain of the emptiness of such celebrations and how they distort the true meaning of the holiday.

But I would argue that even celebrations like this have real value. In today's modern world, it's worryingly easy for people to forget tradition and history as they chase after the latest fad. And as social media allows us to connect to people thousands of miles away, we increasingly find ourselves more alienated from the people right beside us.

Holidays are a perfect antidote for these problems. They provide an opportunity to remind people to think beyond the present moment, and perhaps more importantly, provide a chance to bring people together, building stronger families and communities.

Of course, celebrations of foreign holidays can easily be corrupted. Revelers can willfully ignore the deeper significance of a holiday, preferring instead to use it as an excuse to shop and take selfies to boost their own egos on social media. But things like this can happen just as easily to celebrations of local festivals as well. The commercialization of traditional celebrations is a complaint that can be heard in nearly every country around the world.

So when Laba Festival comes around next year, I'll be sure to eat another bowl of porridge and appreciate its meaning just a little more than before. But I'll also be sure to continue celebrating other Chinese and international holidays, taking as many chances as I can to connect to something deeper and to the people around me.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus