Teaching About Spring Holidays

My daughter, on Puthuvarusham, learning from her grandmother how to draw kolam using rice flour

The birds are chirping. The weather is getting warmer.  Spring is here, signaling the arrival of the many holidays that take place this time of year.  However, while “Winter Holidays” are often taught at schools in an effort to “multiculturally” celebrate Christmas, the festivities our students engage in during the Spring are often ignored even though for many of our families, the Spring festivities are the ones that are most important to them.  So in order to increase sociocultural competency in your classroom, consider asking your students if they are involved in any celebrations during Spring and if they would be willing to share a little about their festivities.  Furthermore, even if your classroom does not represent the global diversity found throughout the country, remember that socio-cultural competency requires the understanding that people throughout the world have different identities and therefore different customs.  Therefore, if you have the flexibility in your curriculum, think about incorporating a few global holidays into your Spring semester curriculum.  Here are a few holidays to get you started:

  1. Spring Festival – Spring is a time of rebirth, so it’s no wonder that spring is associated with New Years in many countries. In fact, in China, their New Years festivities are also known as the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival takes place either in January or February, depending upon the luni-solar calendar.  Although in the United States this may seem like a winter holiday, it’s important to note that seasonal weather patterns are different in different parts of the world.  The Spring Festival celebration includes fireworks, eating dumplings, local fairs, dragon dances, and visiting family.  Because many other East Asian cultures also celebrate their new year at the same time, the celebration is often referred to as Lunar New Years; however, this ignores other luni-solar, new year celebrations that occur at different times of the year.
  2. Puthuvarusham – Speaking of New Year’s celebrations, Tamils throughout the world also celebrate the new year in the spring.  Tamils are people who speak Tamil and can trace their ancestry back to either Tamil Nadu (a state in South India) or Northern Sri Lanka. Puthuvarusham (literally New (Puthu) Year (Varusham) is celebrated in March or April every year in accordance to the Tamil luni-solar calendar and is celebrated with prayer, cleaning, new clothes, feasts, and a dish called Mangai-pachadi.  Mangai-pachadi is a dish that mixes all the major types of taste through sweet brown sugar, bitter neem leaves, sour mangos, and hot red chilis. These different tastes symbolize the various flavors of life.  The person eating the dish prays for the strength to be able to accept each of those life flavors with equal grace during the new year.  Finally, intricate artwork known as kolam or tirupandi is made outside the home using colored rice flour.  
  3. Holi – Holi, originally known as Holika, is a North Indian festival celebrating the arrival of Spring. This holiday started many centuries before Common Era as a religious rite through which married women asked for the well being of their families.  Today, it is more of a joyful celebration where people get together to enjoy the positive elements of life.  The day before Holi, they light a bonfire to get rid of all evil.  And on Holi, they playfully throw colored water and colorful powders on one another, often covering people head to toe in various colors.  The colors represent the joy, merriment, and positivity brought on by Spring.  The entire process symbolizes good triumphing over evil.  Holi, also based on a luni-solar calendar, usually takes place in March but sometimes falls in the end of February.  Here is a great link to see some Bollywood portrayals of the holiday.  
  4. Ramadan – Ramadan is a serious, spiritual celebration that, at the time of this writing, takes place in the Spring.  Ramadan is a month long holiday that takes place during the 9th month of the Islamic year, but because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the lunar year is approximately 10 days shorter than the solar year, the celebration starts 10 days earlier each year.  This means that Ramadan will eventually become a winter holiday, then a fall holiday, a summer holiday, and finally, a spring holiday once again.  This is different than the Chinese and Indian calendars which are luni-solar, which means that although they are based on lunar months, they have periodic adjustments in order to realign the calendars with the solar year.  (This is yet another reason why calling the New Years celebrations of East Asia Lunar New Year is inaccurate and would in fact, be more accurate for the Muslim New Year.)  Ramadan represents the month when the Quran was revealed to observants; therefore, the month is a time to draw closer to God, reflect, fast, and engage in works of charity and social justice.  Students who are observing may not eat between sunrise and sunset during the month as part of their fast.  
  5. Passover – Passover is an 8-day, Spring festival that usually takes place in March or April and celebrates the exodus of the formerly enslaved Hebrew people from Egypt.  According to Jewish tradition, God sent down ten plagues upon Egypt to convince the pharaoh to emancipate the Jews.  The name of the holiday represents God’s final plague on Egypt, which took the life of each household’s first born child.  According to Jewish tradition, this plague “passed over” Hebrew households, thus sparing the children of Jewish families.  Observants traditionally have Seder feasts the first two nights, which involve drinking wine to celebrate freedom, eating bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of slavery, eating matzah or flatbread to remember how quickly the Hebrews left after emancipation such that the bread did not have time to rise, and the retelling of the Exodus story to ensure that future generations would not forget the story. According to some accounts, Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday in the world.

What are your students’ Spring traditions and how do you plan to incorporate them and the ones above into your conversations with students?  Let us know in the comments below.

*Also, if you celebrate one of these holidays, and I have gotten something wrong, please let me know in the comments below.  I am always ready to grow from my readers’ feedback.

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