Festival Essay Contest
Group A (5 to 8 years)
Kalyani Nair (“Bridging Cultures with Diwali”), Roswell, Georgia
Samuel Hay (“Diwali of a Different Kind”), Little River, South Carolina
Ishani Nair (“India’s Festive Hug”)
Group B (9 to 14 years)
Sanvi Rao (“Thanksgiving with a Pinch of Spice”), Cumming, Georgia
Ayati Yadav (“Raksha Bandhan: A Thread of Love and Protection Across Generations”), Cumming, Georgia
Vamsi Jella (“A Festival of Nine Nights”), Cumming, GA
Festival Essay Contest Group A (5 to 8 years)
Bridging Cultures with Diwali
By KALYANI NAIR
It was Diwali. I was in first grade, having a good time in school but thinking about what must be going on at home and what we will be doing in the evening. With all these thoughts going on, I was wishing that Diwali was on the weekend so we could stay at home, do all our fun stuff and participate in our Indian traditions. Anyway, school got over for the day and I got on the bus eager to go home. As the bus came closer to our stop, one kid exclaimed, ‘Your mom looks so pretty!’ I looked out the window and saw Mamma dressed in Indian clothes. She looked beautiful (which she does every day, but today she wasn’t wearing jeans or trousers but a lovely yellow kurta-churidaar)! She also had a pretty box in her hands. I wondered what could be inside it. Turns out it was a box of Indian sweets for our bus driver! I should have known—every year our family shares sweets and other Indian savories with our neighbors, UPS and USPS drivers, and gardeners, etc. This was the first year we were bus riders, so our bus driver was also on Mamma’s list.
We start decorating for Fall towards the end of September and for Diwali in October or November. What I love about it is that even though the décor for both is different, the colors are similar—orange, red and yellow. Fall and Diwali décor sit side by side and seem to go well with each other. I love seeing the maple leaves and pumpkin decoration next to the marigold strings and clay diyas. They look like they were supposed to be together—kind of like the American and Indian parts of my life!
We are the only Indian family in our wonderful neighborhood. We love to celebrate all festivals— Indian and American. It is just so much fun! Every year, we decorate our yard with beautiful lights for Christmas and the New Year. And we also decorate with equal excitement for Diwali! After all, the house and yard need to be all lit up for the Festival of Lights! The first year we decorated for Diwali, our neighbors loved it and thought that we were decorating early for Christmas. When we told them all about Diwali, they loved the décor even more! Some of our neighbors joined us for the fireworks too.
Our festivals are so much fun. I love to wear Indian clothes, visit our temples, eat traditional, festive food, meet with friends, enjoy the music, just have fun and enjoy the festivities. After experiencing Diwali in India recently, I know that Diwali here and there are different but they are both beautiful. It is fun to share our beautiful culture with those around us here in the United States. I just love to celebrate the festival and share the joy with others around me.
Kalyani Nair, aged 8, goes to Mountain Park Elementary School in Roswell, Georgia.
My Favorite Festivals
By SAMUEL HAY
Fall is my favorite season. I like winter too. I like all the seasons, but fall is my favorite. Why? Because I like jumping in leaves and leaves change colors and they also fall. You can also call it autumn. Pumpkin patches are there. And the days get shorter. And the nights get longer. That’s pretty much about it.
There are festivals in fall. Halloween is one. I dressed up the first year as a superhero. Second year as a construction worker. Third year as a chimney sweep and this year I might be a cowboy or a robot. My dad’s birthday is in fall. So is my grandpa’s. My grandpa lives in India.
Diwali, the great Indian festival, is in the fall too. We light fireworks and eat lots of treats! And my mom told me the story of Lord Ram and the ten-headed monster. Arrr!
Fall is a great season to have festivals. Weather is cooler, so everyone is excited. There is a Greek festival in my town that I like attending. It makes me realize that there are lots of holidays in lots of places. I love learning about them all: American festivals, Indian festivals, French festivals, Scottish festivals and Italian festivals too.
Christmas is one of my favorites too! Even though it’s in winter, I am still including it because I love it. It is a great holiday. I like the snow and the presents and the decorations on the tree. And I like Santa! I wonder if I have been good and if Santa will bring me a present or coal? And my birthday is around Christmas too. But before Christmas comes Thanksgiving. It is coming up soon. We have turkey and pie then.
At school I learn about some other holidays. May 5th is a Mexican holiday. We eat chips and salsa and sometimes tortillas too. Saint Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday in March. I love the color green!
Columbus Day is also in fall. It is a day when Columbus sailed around the world to find India, but he landed in America. I am off school then. It’s a fun time. I love being home with my family.
Samuel Hay, aged 6, goes to Valorous Academy in Little River, South Carolina.
Honorable Mention - Group A
India’s Festive ‘Hug’
By ISHANI NAIR
Every year, with the arrival of Fall we get excited about the festivals—Navaratri, Dushera, Diwali, Halloween, Thanksgiving. Every day in Fall seems festive with so much to do—it is my favorite time of the year. All my favorite Indian festivals are in Fall, the most loved ones being Navaratri and Diwali. As a family we enjoy decorating, cooking, sharing and celebrating. My Mamma, like all other mothers, is the main person doing all these things at home and we like to hover around, help a lot, and enjoy the festive mood. Mamma, however, though smiling all the time and enjoying every bit of preparation and celebration, always says, ‘I wish we could all celebrate this festive season in India at least once’. ‘Why?’ I once asked her. ‘Because in India Mother Nature herself celebrates these festivals. Also, the cities and streets celebrate, the markets and shopping malls celebrate, even the air is festive.’
Now, don’t get me wrong. Mamma and our family LOVE Fall here in the U.S. We go all out to decorate the house with Fall décor. Mamma has the simmer pot on with Fall fragrances (I just love it), we have Fall instrumental music playing in the kitchen most of the day, and apple cakes and lots of other treats (yummy) are made often! However, while doing Diwali preparations, her heart pines for India.
Last year, she got her wish! The festive season and a wedding in our family right after Diwali were occasions we really didn’t want to miss. Our parents spoke to our school Principal, unenrolled us from school and off we went to India for four months! By the way, our Principal and all our teachers were very excited for us to experience our culture and festivals in India. My twin and I promised to journal our trip in detail.
From the moment we landed in India—about two days before Navaratri—we realized EXACTLY what Mamma meant! The air was indeed festive. Every place, every person, everything seemed to be getting ready to celebrate. There was so much excitement in the air. I could feel the festive energy even if I was surrounded mostly by strangers, for instance in the airport, the market, or anywhere we went. Decorations, street processions, aromas from mithaai shops—everything told us of the festivals. This was very different from the way we celebrated in the U.S. where we got this vibe only within our home, the homes of our Indian friends, or the temples we went to. In India it felt like the whole city—every place we went—was welcoming us with a big smile and a warm embrace!
On top of it all, our grandparents made sure we had the best Diwali of our lives. Grandparents, as we all know, have a magical touch of making everything, including celebrations, super special and more fun. I now knew what festivals in India meant. It was a like a huge festive hug!
Ishani Nair, aged 8, goes to Mountain Park Elementary School in Roswell, Georgia.
Festival Essay Contest Group B (9 to 14 years)
Thanksgiving with a Pinch of Spice
By SANVI RAO
Celebrations are a huge part of our family, and as Indians, we have no shortage of festivals to celebrate. Still, that is not always enough, and we keep thinking of ways to add more festivities to our lives. So, we even celebrate American festivals like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. However, we don’t exactly celebrate it in a traditional way. Of course, we add our own Indian touches to it with food and decorations. Now let me tell you how we celebrate Thanksgiving with an Indian twist.
Have you noticed that Thanksgiving comes right after Diwali? That is why my family leaves indoor and outdoor Diwali decorations—like lanterns, diyas, and lights—until Thanksgiving. In fact, we keep them until the New Year to feel festive throughout the holiday season (or sometimes even longer as my dad gets lazy to take them out!). Instead of having a candlelit dinner, we light our diyas, turn on the fairy lights, and have a twinkling meal. Along with these Indian touches, we of course add fall decor like leaves, wreaths, and pumpkins.
You might ask, “What is Thanksgiving without turkey?” but as vegetarians, we have no choice but to improvise and whip up our own takes on American foods. A normal spread at our home would be pasta with a hint of garam masala (an Indian spice blend) and Indianized tomato soup. We also have baked Tutti Frutti cake, which is a classic Indian fruitcake. But last year we tried something different. We made corn muffins and mashed potatoes instead of our authentic menu. It turned out to be a disaster for our spice-craving taste buds! Since then, we have decided to stick to our usuals.
Thanksgiving is also about giving back to the community, so my friends and I decided to set up a bake sale on the weekend after. We sold cookies, cupcakes, and lemonade to our neighbors. In the end, we made a good profit and donated it to charity. Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian leader, once said, “To give pleasure to a single heart in a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” This goes to show the significance of compassionate actions, and the impact it can have on people.
Even though we change many details about this holiday, we cannot change the main purpose, giving thanks. On Thanksgiving, I make sure to pray and thank God for the wonderful life I have. Then we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV while eating a yummy breakfast of pancakes and eggs. Then we spend a few hours together, cooking up a big dinner. Later that night, my family and I sit around our dinner table and talk about what we are grateful for. So, now you got a sneak peek into our Indian version of Thanksgiving. We have had these traditions for a very long time and will carry them on for many more years to come!
Sanvi Rao, aged 12, goes to South Forsyth Middle School in Cumming, Georgia.
Raksha Bandhan: A Thread of Love and Protection Across Generations
By AYATI YADAV
There are around 10,000 festivals observed worldwide, but only one celebrates the unique bond between a brother and a sister. Hindus observe a holiday called Raksha Bandhan on the day of the full moon in the month of August each year.
Because of its unique tradition and philosophy, Raksha Bandhan, also known as Rakhi, is unquestionably one of my favorite holidays of the year. While "Bandhan" means to bond, "Raksha" denotes protection. Consequently, the expression "to tie protection" means to tie a bond, and a Rakhi represents such a commitment. During the ceremony, the sister ties a thread to the brother's hand to keep him safe and ensure a long, happy life, and the brother makes a promise to always watch out for his sister. My mother explains to me the history of Raksha Bandhan, which is centered on the alliance between Queen Karnvati and the Mughal emperor Humayun. Since Queen Karnvati was powerless to stop Bahadur Shah Jaffar from attacking her kingdom of Chittorgarh, she sent Humayun a Rakhi. Humayun was overjoyed with the Rakhi, and he stopped Bahadur Shah's aggressive onslaught right away. Therefore, Queen Karnvati's Rakhi serves as a symbol of the protective bond during the annual Rakhi Festival for Raksha Bandhan.
The celebration is significant to me because Raksha Bandhan brings people together by entwining a thread that resembles their bond of connection and protection for each other. Whether a person is Hindu or Muslim, blood-related or not, Rakhi is a tradition for all to celebrate the connections people have with each other. My family is an example of this because, despite having a great distance between them, my entire family manages to celebrate Rakhi each year. In any case, Raksha Bandan reunifies all of us despite the vast distances that might be separating us. This shows that we care about one another.
Raksha Bandhan is also essential because it fosters principles of cultural harmony and family unity at both the personal and societal level. Raksha Bandhan is a celebration that brings families together since it emphasizes the significance of family values and traditions. Additionally, the fact that people from various religious backgrounds in India celebrate Rakhi encourages them to put their differences aside. Rakhi is an example of how people from different ethnic backgrounds can come together to enjoy this delightful festival.
Whether through its original Hindu mythology origin or the way it is commemorated, Rakhi recalls and demonstrates to society the value of a relationship. Hopefully, Rakhi will be observed for many more generations to come, and practiced by more people across the globe. Rakhi will always stand out to me as one of the most memorable and meaningful holidays in this society because of its significance and symbolic value.
Ayati Yadav, aged 14, goes to South Forsyth High School in Cumming, Georgia.
Honorable Mention - Group B
Festival of Nine Nights
By VAMSI YELLA
School keeps kids busy. There is always something to do and something due. It’s an endless chain of projects, quizzes, and tests. I look forward to any break. Dussehra or Navaratri falls in the peak academic semester here and sometimes during fall break. The festival allows us to relax and recuperate.
My fondest tradition of Navaratri is attending Golu. Golu is a traditional display of many dolls and figurines of gods, animals, birds, etc. on a step-like wooden frame. It showcases society and spiritual progress. Each year we visit all our friends for Golu. I find it amazing how many dolls there are in each home. Everyone takes great pride in their display and huge collection of Golu dolls. Some dolls are passed down from generation to generation.
During Dussehra, we pray to the nine forms of the goddess. The Sai temple near our home celebrates all nine days of Dussehra with special celebrations. We attend the pujas and participate in all festivities. At the temple, they bring classical artists and play traditional music. As a student of Carnatic music, I enjoy these concerts very much.
One year we were lucky enough to be able to visit India in October. I recall the festivities and gaiety of Dussehra in our hometown. Dussehra, being the most important festival in South India, employers reward their employees with bonuses and sweets. My grandfather, who owns a small factory, celebrates Dussehra grandiosely. The night before, the employees clean the entire premises and machines. They decorate the gate, doorways, and all the machines with mango leaves and long garlands of marigold flowers. On the day of the festival, employees offer prayers to each and every machine with coconuts and fruits. In Indian culture, god is omnipresent. They perform Ayudha Puja, the worship of weapons or machines. We make sure to treat all tools well. We follow a similar tradition here in the U.S. We ensure to clean our homes and cars during the days leading to the festival. We place all our gadgets and laptops near the altar in the puja room. Marigold flowers or mums from our garden are quintessential for the big day. Mother invariably makes Garelu, Pulihara, and Chakrapongal. My favorites!
I find it very interesting that there are so many significant stories connected to Dussehra. Dussehra marks the event when Lord Rama killed Ravana the demonic king. My neighbors burn the effigy of Ravana to symbolize the destruction of evil forces. It was also the day when goddess Durga defeated Mahishasura. The moral of both stories is the same, the victory of good over evil. Each year I learn something new about the significance of Dussehra. I believe that the festivities, rituals, and practices are meant to instill morals and faith in everyone. We gather to bond and show love and affection towards each other. The festivals serve as an eternal reminder that we all should do good and be good.
Vamsi Yella, aged 14, goes to West Forsyth High School in Cumming, Georgia.
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