Photo by Nisha Gill, A&C Reporter

A&C reporter’s reflections on happiness and the holidays

The holidays are, in many ways, a reminder of time passing, a temporal landmark of sorts. They encourage reflection, often without us even realizing it, as they draw our attention to the parallels and incongruencies between the present and the past.

For me, the weeks bracketed between Diwali and the New Year always seem like a transitionary period, a time reserved for reflection and tying up the loose ends of the past year. This year in particular though because of how much the world has changed, it feels as if not only do these weeks hold space for reflection, but they demand it.

Diwali holds a very special place in my heart. For me, it’s about celebrating my family and our history in a way that we don’t often get to during the hustle and bustle of the rest of the year. It’s also about taking time for ourselves, to just be and connect.

Every year, my family gathers at my Nana and Nani’s house and we spend the day together, catching up, playing games and reconnecting. In the evening we exchange gifts, do a small prayer and eat lots of delicious food and sweets.

My cousins, siblings and I with sparklers a few years ago. As a festival of lights, candles, fireworks and sparklers are important aspects of Diwali traditions for many. Photo by Nisha Gill, A&C Reporter

There is something insulating about that day, about being there together in my grandparents’ house. Everything else — all my doubts, fears, uncertainties, worries — melts away. It feels as if for one day we’re completely sheltered from the rest of the world, as if we’re cocooned. It’s a chance to breathe, to pause, prepare and to start anew.

It feels as if for one day we’re completely sheltered from the rest of the world, as if we’re cocooned. It’s a chance to breathe, to pause, prepare and to start anew.

As I was living away from home during my first year, I wasn’t able to come back to celebrate Diwali with my family. At the time, celebrating on my own and trying to recapture some piece of the holiday I love so much, I comforted myself with the knowledge that it was only for one year and next year, I would be home.

I don’t think any of us imagined that this is where we would be when the holidays rolled around again.

Although COVID has made me homebound for the foreseeable future, Diwali still didn’t look like the celebrations from my childhood. I was fortunate enough in that I did get to celebrate with my immediate family, but for safety reasons, we weren’t able to celebrate with my grandparents or my cousins as we normally do.

That’s not to say we didn’t celebrate at all. But standing alone in my kitchen, cooking, while the rest of my family delivered our gifts to our loved ones was dramatically different from talking with Nani and helping her where I could in the busy kitchen that was filled with the rest of my family. My cooking certainly doesn’t compare to my Nani’s and gift baskets and Zoom calls don’t compare to spending the day together.

Myself making the final preparations for our Diwali dinner. Photo by Nisha Gill, A&C Reporter

More than last year, more than anything really, I felt I was trying to salvage something, anything at all. Looking ahead to New Year’s Eve, I imagine it’s going to be similar, it’s going to feel like I am trying to salvage some of our typical traditions in this atypical year.

More than last year, more than anything really, I felt I was trying to salvage something, anything at all.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about creating new traditions for the holidays this year, trying to put a positive spin on these last few weeks, one befitting of the festive season. After the year we’ve had, I think there is certainly a place for that, but I also think it’s worth acknowledging that this season isn’t always a happy one for a lot of people. This year especially, when so many have lost so much, it might not be fair to expect everyone to be in the festive spirit, so to speak.

Especially for those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be particularly difficult because, as temporal landmarks, holidays remind us of years past and loss can feel so much sharper. Even before this year, the holidays were hard for me because although I am surrounded by family, these final weeks of December coincide with anniversaries of grief.

Two years ago, shortly after Diwali, an incredibly important person in my life passed away suddenly. Growing up, I took so much comfort in her steady presence and she played a huge role in making me the person that I am. It felt like the world had been turned upside down and I’m still currently trying to find my footing.

How do you celebrate when someone who is supposed to be there with you is missing? I know the question a lot of people are asking now is not just how do you celebrate when you’re apart, but how do you celebrate when you don’t know when you might be together again?

How do you celebrate when someone who is supposed to be there with you is missing? I know the question a lot of people are asking now is not just how do you celebrate when you’re apart, but how do you celebrate when you don’t know when you might be together again?

Our lone makeshift dya, another attempt at salvaging something of our normal atmosphere, seemed a bit too fitting for this holiday season. Photo by Nisha Gill, A&C Reporter

A lot of people are talking about “next year”, “next time”, or “when all this is over”. I wonder if part of that is because a lot of people aren’t feeling festive or happy right now and there’s enormous pressure to be exactly that this time year. I think the pressure is greater this year in particular because of how terrible and trying 2020 has been.

The holidays are a special time, but I don’t think special always has to mean being happy. There is something to be said for mourning what we have lost whether it’s loved ones, opportunities, traditions and everything in between. They were important to us and to not acknowledge that is a disservice to them and to us.

I think salvaging is very much a grieving process. It’s not necessarily about getting back to happy. It’s about trying to carry forward what you can into the new reality you exist in. For me, it’s about trying to carve out a moment where I can be content and at peace. It’s about trying to come as close as possible to replicating that cocooned, sheltered feeling I got from being in Nana and Nani’s home during Diwalis past. It’s about finding a moment where I can just be, where I can pause and reflect. And of course, it’s not the same, but it’s something, and I think sometimes that’s all we can hope for.

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