Borrowed Festivals

Festival Issue 137 Jun, 2013
Text by Christina Sabrowsky / Photo: ECS Media

Of the many festivals Nepali people celebrate, some are obligatory, others are borrowed.
Nepalese love their festivals. No doubt about it. The fact that Nepal can be called a real mosaic of ethnic groups, all possesing a unique and rich heritage, makes Kathmandu probably one of the most joyful and festival-packed cities in the world. The city is an incomparable interface where two world religions merge to one culture, where Hindus and Buddhists celebrate their festivals side-by-side.

But slowly the Nepali festival calender seems to getting busier: Five years ago the Nepali government decided to add four more holidays to its annual calendar, including Christmas as the highest holiday of the worldwide Christian community. As a new day off from work, the festival took the capital by storm. In 2012 Kathmandu saw the construction of the tallest Christmas tree ever in the country as well as the biggest Santa chair ever built, at the United World Trade Center, the biggest mall of the capital. The countless theme parties and events supported this general zeal for the festival.

What is it that makes Kathmandu city crazy about a Christian festival? “People in Kathmandu love the Christmas scenes that they know from movies and TV series. The snow fall, the lit up trees and certainly the mythical Santa Clause,” says Sudan Gurung, Director of OMG events, an event management agency behind the historical transformation of the shopping mall. The birthday of Jesus Christ worshipped by Christians as their deity fades in front of the fascination that a four-storey Christmas tree radiates.

On Christmas Day, neighbourhood’s kids run towards you with bright eyes wearing their Santa hats, self-made paper work, to wish you a “Merry Christmas!” with total fervor. When seeing the joy in their faces you don´t feel like asking them if they really know the origin of the festival. It is because you can already anticipate the answer and because it really doesn´t make a difference. Christmas is about letting joy into our lives. And when kids run around wearing red and white caps around the entire city, this is what they are doing.
Besides Christmas there are some other festivals that are enjoying great popularity with the younger generation here too. Valentine’s Day and Halloween are also examples of how increasing media distribution and digitalization is bringing local customs from foreign places to Nepal and allowing them to be enjoyed with some local flavor. “People have just started going out on Halloween in costumes. But Valentine’s Day has a lot of significance for young couples, though the Christian origin is unknown to them,” states Yana, a 21 year-old student when asked about Valentine’s Day in Nepal. “People just enjoy buying presents for the person they like, but more importantly, spending some special time together,” she adds.

It is the tolerance towards variuos religious and ethnicities that distinguishes Nepal from other places in the world. The joy of celebrating different festivals as one country is deeply anchored in Nepal’s history and culture. That is why it seems to be just a natural thing to also adapt Christian festivals and allow it to become Nepali culture. Even though the original meanings are often unknown, festivals always share the same gist - it might be Hindu, Buddhist or Christian: it is about embracing life and sharing these moments with your loved ones. And you can never have enough of that.