There is no avoiding the fact that many of the major festivals of the world involve people coming together to celebrate – only a few months ago, we did a blog post on how the largest human migrations happen due to holidays.
The current Coronavirus Pandemic and the global need for self-isolation and social distancing is clearly casting a long and ominous shadow over our holidays.
So Long Songkran
For instance, for three days in the middle of April, Thailand goes a bit crazy with parties in the streets and people chasing each other with water pistols. Known as Songkran, it marks the arrival of Thai New Year and is a fun, boisterous, and easily the most popular of the holidays in Thailand. With the outbreak of the virus, Songkran has been postponed until later in the year, with the three days of public holidays also postponed.
Other holidays have already been affected. On March 17th, almost all of the St. Patrick’s Day parades that bring colour to the many cities in Ireland and beyond were cancelled. Pubs in Ireland were also asked to close, to avoid large social gatherings.
On top of the mass gatherings which are too risky at the moment, many people may feel that celebrating and partying isn’t appropriate given the seriousness of what’s happening.
So should we cancel all festivals? Absolutely not, Coronavirus will be defeated if we act together for benefit of each other and protect the less vulnerable in our societies. Holidays and festivals are times when we are reminded of the shared culture and identity that binds us as nations or religions, and that’s something worth remembering at the moment.
Many holidays recall times in the past when nations and religions have faced down and defeated adversity – for instance on April 7th, Rwanda marks Genocide Memorial Day, remembering a dark period in its history when over 1,000,000 were killed. Another example is V-E Day on May 8th when many parts of Europe will mark the 75th anniversary of the victory in Europe, which brought to an end to the carnage that devastated the continent during the second world war. This virus won’t last that long and it will be defeated, so please continue to mark and celebrate the holidays, even if only as an act of defiance to remind ourselves we have come through much worse.
We should never let Coronavirus stop us from celebrating who we are and why we are – the Italians and Irish didn’t. On Tuesday, many of us were heartened and inspired to see the videos of citizens of Rome flying the Italian flag and singing songs from their balconies. This was for the Italian Day of Unity, which they used to show their love for their nation and demonstrate their resolve that the virus will be beaten.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the ban on parades didn’t stop Irish people showing their spirit and determination by dressing in green and hosting their own mini-parades and events in their own homes.
If you are working from home, and a colleague is celebrating a holiday or a festival in their religion, be sure to wish them well on their special day. If someone is self-isolating and/or working from home, it can be lonely and scary, so anything you can do to help remind your fellow workers that they are not alone.
Social Distancing-Friendly Holidays
Obviously we can’t join together in mass gatherings for holidays, but we can still celebrate. At the start of April, it’s the Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Ching Ming) in China. Traditionally, the holiday involves families visiting cemeteries to clean the grave-sites of their deceased relatives and present offerings. But due to concerns of cross-infection from such mass gatherings, residents are being urged to call off their plans. Instead, many cemeteries are offering alternative services like “virtual tomb-sweeping,” through which people will be able to pay tribute to the deceased online. Residents can also hire cemetery staff to clean their ancestors’ grave-sites for them.
If we look at a few upcoming holidays, they still remain powerful occasions to unite, celebrate and lift our spirits, even if we can’t parade through the streets with water-pistols.
At the end of this week, it’s Persian New Year. Known as Nowruz, this is an indoor-friendly holiday that won’t be subdued by Coronavirus. A lot of customs surround a special display called a Haft-seen, which is set up in the home.
That is followed by Easter, of which Good Friday is a major day. On Good Friday, Christians around the world remember Jesus’ death on the cross, so it is traditionally a sombre day before the euphoria of Easter Sunday, when Christ was resurrected, bringing a message of hope and rebirth to the world. Whether you are Christian or not, or even religious, using these days to mark despair followed by hope seems quite fitting.
At the end of the April, we enter the Islamic month of Ramadan. During the month, Muslims will fast during daylight hours. Again, this festival carries a message of short-term sacrifice for a greater good.
We’ll finish off by telling you about one festival that has been flying the flag for social distancing and says to Coronavirus: “… is that all you got?” Hari Raya Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence, marks the start of the Balinese New Year and the arrival of spring. Beginning at 6 am and lasting until 6 am the following day, Nyepi is a day intended for self-reflection and anything that might disturb this is not allowed. This means no cooking or fires, no entertainment, no travelling and no work of any kind is permitted.
On Nyepi, the usually busy streets of Bali fall silent and nobody is permitted onto the beaches or streets. The airport in Bali will also be closed for Nyepi and telecommunications companies even switch off internet services for a 24 hour period.
Ways you can celebrate holidays and keep social distance
- Check the list of upcoming holidays, so you know if your work colleagues/customers are missing out on a special holiday/festival.
- Change your profile images on Facebook/Twitter to mark upcoming holidays virtually.
- Put a social distancing twist on holiday customs. For instance, why not have an Easter Egg hunt indoors?
- Light up your house in holiday colours. For instance, can you go green, white and red on April 25th for Italy’s National Day? If you have Philips Hue lights, we have made that easy for you.