Every year, when December rolls around, there is much buzz about the holiday season. From Hanukah to Kwanzaa and, of course, Christmas, it is a time of gatherings, decorations and gift exchange. Inevitably, while shopping for presents for teachers, friends, and family, our children will convince their parents to get them a special something too. There is the feeling of celebration in the air, but many Sikh children may be unsure if this is a significant time for them in any way. Guru Nanak Sahib’s prakash purab is usually in November and Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s Gurpurab is in January, with Shahidi of the Sahibzade in December; with a little effort and planning, we can step up in our communities and give Sikh kids a celebration of their own that they can take pride in and teach their friends about too.
On 5 January, a few of San Antonio’s local Sikh families celebrated Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s Gurpurab. The celebration was specifically for children. We had 13 children in attendance that evening, the youngest one at five months and the eldest at eight years. The evening began with Rahiras Sahib, followed by dinner, and then a Sakhi and an activity. It was a wonderful time and if you didn’t know what went behind the scenes to make it happen, you would think that it was just a casual occurrence. Lots of ideas and excited planners can cause anything to seem effortless.
The two eldest children, six and eight years old, had been asked to share the Sakhi of Bhikan Shah and Gobind Rai. During the transition from dinner to Sakhi time, they quickly went to a quiet area in the house, and began practicing their parts. Every now and then, an adult would be pulled over by one of them to aid in pronouncing a word or phrase. Finally, they felt they were ready to share with everyone. As they took turns reading from their two sheets the littlest ones were naturally distracted, but the older kids listened a little more attentively and the parents listened very carefully!
After the two presenters had concluded, the adults began to ask interested, comprehension questions: Who was the story about? Who was Gobind Rai? Where was he born? What was Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s father name? (A hint or two came up for this question:“He was a Guru.” … “He was the 9 th Guru.”)
Hands flew up as the children eagerly shared the answer: Guru Teghbahadar Sahib! From there, the parents asked: Did the children know who Guru Sahib’s children were? And who their grandmother was? After establishing the basics and getting everyone excited about volunteering the answers we sought, the parents moved the discussion on to Bhikhan Shah; how he took the two pots, one full of water and one full of milk, to Gobind Rai and Gobind Rai placed his hands on both, signifying fairness towards both the Hindus and the Muslims. After all, the importance of the Sakhi was to show that we need to treat everyone equally and fairly.
One of the most exciting parts of the question and answer session was the fact that our two young presenters were devising their own questions for everyone and trying to answer the adults’ questions too. It was amazing to see how easily they assumed the responsibility of their role and worked to keep the other children engaged. They even ended with an original poem about Bhikhan Shah that they had come up with as a pair during their practice session together!
After the Sakhi, everyone took part in an activity simple enough for all the children to understand, but still very fun for all! Using a raised Khanda, the children covered it with colored origami paper and made a rubbing of the shape with crayons. The adults felt a great nostalgia for their own childhoods, when they would make rubbings of coins, so naturally they loved joining in to help the kids. After the Khanda had been transferred onto the paper, parents and children worked together to write out their names in the space above the Khanda, some in English and some in Gurmukhi. The entire project was contained in a circle, just the right size to cut out and put into a plastic button with a pin on the back. Afterwards, the young artists proudly put their buttons on their shirts, displaying their creativity and careful writing. The two eldest girls, Tavleen and Kiran, were great helpers during the activities— future Sikh camp counselors in the making!
The evening wouldn’t have been complete without some yummy chocolate cake decorated with colored sprinkles. After the children savored their slices and collected a goodie bag, they left for the night. I am sure the above sounds fun and exciting— a great way for any family to pass an evening—but let’s take a deeper look behind the scenes. I want to share with you how a celebration like this comes together: what components need to be part of it and how, with cooperation and the benefit of many
voices, the inspiration for a celebration can make the planning as important as the evening itself.
Some of the local women here in San Antonio come together on Thursday evenings for Gurbani meetings. What began as an opportunity for all of us to share and talk through the hukamnama of the day, led to group listening sessions of Pinderpal Singh on different topics followed by discussion.
Afterwards, in going over our questions and ideas, we found we were always coming back to children and discussing many different ideas for projects we could design that would lead them to create their own discussion and sharing groups. When the conversation arose, how to celebrate Gurpurab this year, we were ready to bring everyone together for another evening, but with extra special planning for the kids this time!
It took several days to orchestrate the evening, lots of phone calls, a shopping trip, and a wide range of ideas were put out on the table! We neared a decision to make a Khanda snow globe— a project we had wanted to try from an activity book, and with a great change to give it a Sikh twist! When we couldn’t identify the right materials to use for the globe, we went back to the drawing board, but the Khanda was in our minds now.
In the next couple of days, one of us found the raised Khanda, and concocted the plan to make Khanda rubbings to go into the plastic buttons. The craft would be manageable with the kids in the age range we would bring together. Looking through our library of books at home and online, we found the perfect Sakhi. We simplified it some to help the children better understand it, and we sent it to the older girls’ parents ahead of time so they could practice and get excited. Everyone wouldn’t have felt right if the host did all the cooking, so over e-mails we decided that the evening meal was to be pot luck. A simple meal with veggie rice, dal, dahi, salad and achar was enjoyed by everyone. And, as mentioned previously, the chocolate cake almost stole the show!
We also carefully planned the goodie bags, so that children would take home little gifts from the celebration that would remind them of their fun evening of learning. We strove to put together gifts which would be appropriate for the wide range of ages, from less than a year old to eight! Everyone got a jumprope, to encourage healthy, active play. Then everyone had some sort of an art activity that was at their level of engagement, and the little ones got a sparkle ball. Each child got their gifts in a yellow bag and we had printed out a sheet for the front to say “Happy Gurpurab” followed by the name of the child in Gurmukhi. We made a little game out of picking out the bags, having children identify the recipient by the Gurmukhi names. It was as fun planning and filling the bags as it was seeing the children receive them!
All in all, the evening was a wonderful way to bring many families together and to leave children with an event they will remember for a long time. Next time children consider being impartial to someone, we hope that they will draw on the Sakhi they heard that night, and remember Guru Sahib’s message. Next time there is a Christmas or a Hanukah celebration at a friend’s house, we hope children will be proud to say, “We celebrate Gurpurab,” if someone asks them what sorts of days are special for them. Next time one of these children jumps rope, we hope they remember that Guru Sahib asked us to strengthen our bodies, and next time they do an art activity, we hope they remember that we need to be creative in everything we do. And of course, we hope that all will keep these values important and vibrant in their homes.
We would love to hear your ideas for planning celebrations in your own community. It’s amazing what a Gurbani meeting can make happen!
Jasmine Kaur is the Director of Education at the Sikh Research Institute. She has Bachelor’s in Sociology and Elementary Education and has completed her Master’s of Science in Human Development, with a specialty in Family Studies. She currently focuses on tools for Sikhi education.