Throwing brightly coloured powder at each other in communal gatherings, watching performances on the street, eating sweets—this is how mom-of-one Saumya Gautam used to celebrate Holi, the festival of colours and one of the biggest Hindu festivals, when she lived in India. Holi is a festival that signifies the victory of good over evil while also welcoming Spring. It’s also a tradition this Toronto mom wanted to pass on to her two-and-a-half-year-old son Yohan. She took Yohan to India for his first celebration in 2015, but wanted to give him that same experience in Canada, despite the weather and the fact that there aren’t many huge celebrations for it here.
That’s when the idea struck, just before Holi in 2016: She would bring the festival to Yohan’s daycare as a way to not only teach him about it, but teach the other kids as well. Gautam and her husband François, who is Québécois, try their best to pass down their cultural traditions, whether it’s celebrating Diwali (Indian Festival of Lights) or a Quebec holiday like St-Jean-Baptiste Day. However, Gautam knew she couldn’t bring brightly coloured homemade powder to the daycare because, among other things, some kids have allergies and sensory sensitivities. Her workaround: soft coloured paper shredded to bits that kids can throw at each other instead. Genius!
The kids went absolutely crazy throwing the coloured paper at each other, says Gautam. Of course, it wouldn’t be Holi without the proper attire. Gautam, Francois and Yohan all wore kurtas, traditional Indian garb that resembles a loose shirt that’s worn by both men and women. Gautam and Yohan wore matching kurtas. After the kids were done going wild drowning each other in shredded little papers, Francois read a board book about the festival to the kids.
“A very happy staff member told us what a truly Canadian moment the whole thing was: A Québécois dad reading a story about an Indian festival to kids in Toronto and a half-Indian-half-Québécois son bringing the spirit of Holi to his class,” says Gautam. “Hearing this comment truly melted my heart.”
While Gautam couldn’t replicate Yohan’s first Holi in India, this was the closest they got to it.
Seeing how much of a success Holi was at Yohan’s daycare, she decided to bring the celebration there once again this year.
“For us, it is not just about passing on our unique cultural heritage to our son, but reiterating and reminding him of the fact that this is what Canada is truly about—a multicultural, diverse and inclusive country which nurtures and celebrates the diversity of its people,” says Gautam.
Do you pass on your cultural celebrations to your kids? If so, how do you do it?
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