Humans have created an array of religious and cultural celebrations to mark the seasons, tantalize our taste buds and enliven our days. October brought Halloween, November Diwali. We are heading pell-mell into Christmas, even as observant Jews light candles to commemorate Hanukkah.

What’s your take on festivals – do you celebrate them with enthusiasm or just ignore them? Do they mean anything to you? Do you feel they have become too loud, too commercial, etc? I am eager to hear from you!

Don’t miss the links at the end of this blog. The first features magical lanterns, described in the next paragraph. Link two shows facets of one of my favourite Indian festival’s – Navratri, where you can go for nine nights of communal dancing, wearing colourful clothes. Yeh! A Hindu festival, the Indian diaspora has taken it abroad. The third link goes to an article by a Zoroastrian-Canadian friend talking about how she negotiated and transmitted her religion and culture, growing up and raising a family, in Vancouver.

The Magic of the Lanterns takes place every autumn at the Chinese Garden in the Botanical Gardens in Montreal. It marks a Chinese festival dating back to the Han dynasty – 206 B.C.-220 A.D. The lanterns this year were gorgeous tableaus made out of nylon and other modern materials, depicting everyday life in 12th century China. In a post-modern, green twist, the Garden authorities claim that since 2008, a LED (light emitting diode) lighting system is used for this festival, in order to reduce energy use.

My own feelings about festivals underwent a sea change after immigrating to Canada in the 1990s. When I lived in India I took festivals for granted, participating in them mostly at the behest of my enthusiastic mother. After immigrating, I was free, free to continue celebrating, do less or nothing, or incorporate new ones.

Inspired by my wonderful, pagan, environmentalist friends, I started commemorating Solstice and Equinox as milestones on the seasonal calendar. When I lived in Toronto, I participated in communal rituals. Now I go for a “mindful” walk, look at the moon, light a candle or incense, walk through the apartment, perfuming it with sweet grass, a plant that is variously used by native Indians.

I embraced Halloween with great gusto, a time when the partition between the dead and the living thins. Pumpkins are carved and hang out on porches, grinning devilishly, ghosts and goblins come out to play and adults (finally) become more fun as they don masks and costumes to party! It is an opportunity to cross dress, just what a friend did at a Halloween Party I organized once. He was so well disguised as an old woman, complete with mask, wig, dress and falsetto voice, that I failed to recognize him for a few moments! (He happens to be an amateur actor.)

Another invitee came as a “table for two.” He had stuck his head through a square, flat piece of styrofoam, complete with a plastic tablecloth. On the surface he had stuck on plastic plates, saucers and paper napkins! His got the best costume prize.

I have retained Ganesh Puja, very important to my ethnic/ linguistic group, discovering that the pot-bellied, elephant-headed God, with his reputation for dispelling obstacles, is popular everywhere. Come Diwali I worship Laxmi, the Goddess not only of wealth, which is rather mundane, but also of abundance – a word with an exuberant, pagan quality. My mixed fortunes in Canada have made me incline towards her!

We attend certain Shambhala Buddhist ceremonies, time permitting, and attend family gatherings at Christmas. My life is rich in ritual. But why do I care? I deeply appreciate the theme of dispelling darkness to bring in light, that many festivals have. Others recognize the role of nature, draw on particular symbols, push me to pause and reflect even as I recreate a practice, feast, socialize and have fun. As a friend would put it: “What’s not to like?”

Magic Lanterns: