Last week I celebrated my birthday with my family. The highlight of my day? An absolutely delicious gelato cake!
But that’s not the main point of my little anecdote, though the cake really was marvelous. Rather, I want to reflect on the broader link between celebrations and culture.
There are probably millions of different ways to celebrate a birthday. But as far as I know, there is usually great similarity in celebrations between cultures. Several key ingredients are necessary: celebrating with family and friends, enjoying good food and having a good time. Everything else can differ according to personal preferences.
Granted, that recipe could be used for other celebrations as well. When we consider cultural and religious holidays, however, the differences are more apparent ─ Christmas and Hanukkah are certainly different. New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year are also celebrated differently, despite their strikingly obvious similarities and the fact that they essentially celebrate the same thing. According to my parents, for Chinese New Year there is, traditionally, a whole series of practices indicating which day to visit your parents and which day to visit your parents-in-law, for example.
Vancouver is a multicultural city; we’re lucky to have the chance to become acquainted with various cultures and their holidays. But in my experience, this advantage is also a source of confusion.
Born in Taiwan, I moved to Vancouver at the age of four. Most of the time I’m happy about this dual nationality, as it’s an important part of my identity and certainly makes life more interesting. Yet occasionally, it’s a cause for worry – what to celebrate?
When people ask me if I celebrate Christmas, I always think: “Good question . I don’t know, exactly.” Ditto for Easter, Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival and numerous other holidays.
Aloud, I often answer: “Kind of, I think.”
I know that isn’t the clearest of responses, decidedly, but I have to admit that I don’t quite understand what constitutes ‘celebrating a holiday.’ I sometimes decorate a Christmas tree – it’s fun! –
but I don’t usually exchange presents with my family. And when I consider several Christmas parties I’ve been to, I realize they weren’t much different from other holiday parties, except perhaps for the presence of candy canes, gold ribbon and snowflakes everywhere.
Considering my annual, even monthly, holiday-induced confusion, it’s hardly surprising that I finally arrived at this shockingly simple conclusion: there is no single way to celebrate a holiday. So if our Christmas dinner sometimes includes Chinese food, well, so much the better.
Maybe, finally, it isn’t important to distinguish between different ways of celebrating. There will always be differences between cultures, but isn’t that rather a good thing? Of greater importance is the consideration that there aren’t, and shouldn’t be, any limits. So if I wanted to I could celebrate Holi, even if I’m not Hindu. I should add, according to an Indian friend, Holi is great fun.
Living in a multicultural city provides a perfect opportunity to develop open-mindedness. Even if we don’t entirely understand the origins or particular significance of a holiday, as long as we remain respectful towards the values and beliefs of others, it should be possible to celebrate anything and everything!