Festive Season

Toronto Khalsa Day Parade: A Truly Multicultural Experience!

That was precisely how I felt when I entered Nathan Philips Square, the huge atrium surrounding Toronto City Hall to watch the 29th Khalsa Day Parade. The parade is organized by the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwaras Council (OSGC) every year to celebrate Vaisakhi, the New Year in the Sikh community.
It is an expression of solidarity within the Canadian Sikh community, who invite everybody to come out and share the day with them. Around 85,000-100,000 people were estimated to have attended the event. Beginning at Exhibition Place at 1 pm, the parade reached Toronto City Hall via Lakeshore Blvd. Marching to drumbeats, the procession included school bands and carriages with posters of Sikh history and culture, intermingled with Canadian culture. Following them were spectators in their thousands, some of them singing in the true spirit of participation.
Delving into history, we find that Sikhism, as a religion, originated in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century. Toronto boasts of one of the largest Sikh communities in the world next to Surrey in Vancouver. ‘Khalsa’ is the name ascribed to the Sikh community. Canadian Sikhs form 1.4% of the population in Canada and 28% among the South Asians, according to Wikipedia, our everyday resort for facts of these kinds. Giving these a once-over, we can now move to the more interesting part, the food.
I was amazed by the awesome variety of free food available at the event. There were at least 20 food stalls serving different types of Indian food and beverage. And it was all for free! The whole day! Also, did I mention that it was extremely tasty?!! Frankly speaking, we were doing the rounds of the food counters most of the time, pigging out on savory and sweet stuff, drinking tea, smoothies, juice, etc. Even in the procession, volunteers were distributing pizza and juice.
Actually, I saw people making up doggie bags to take food home. What was best about this was that there were people from different cultures from all corners of the world. Everybody was welcome to the delicious food. People were there lining up, ready to snack on the readymade food. Well, that was another thing, the huge line-ups! The food stalls were overcrowded and there was some shoving and pushing. But it was all in good spirit!
Many top politicians and dignitaries also graced the occasion to pay their respects to the huge gathering. And probably to remind us to vote for them! Some of them stood out, donning traditional Indian clothing. This added a touch of novelty to the event, in the minds of people like me. There were also small-time fun activities for kids such as face painting and games. All in all, it was a day well-spent!

06 May 2014

Can you count the Santas?

For this month’s end of the month guest post, Arun writes from the left coast about SantaCon in San Francisco.


santacon0As the sun peeked through the serene landscapes of San Francisco, a city often known as the liberal capital of the United States, everything looked a bit extra Christmassy for a random December morning. One might wonder, what’s so different today in this city that often teases you with its weather but never disappoints you. You see splashes of red and green and white embellished with fake beards and jingling bells and mistletoes. Yes you are right, Santa is in town. Not one, not a hundred, but thousands. It is time for one of the most unique jamborees one could experience in this beautiful city – It is SantaCon!!
As much as San Francisco is known for its quirky festivals and marathons, this one really stands out and is very near and dear to San Franciscans. Despite all the festivities being centered around bar crawls and partying on the streets, there is definitely a more wholesome nature to SantaCon as it brings together ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages to celebrate one man’s contribution to the world’s happiness – good old Santa Claus! People also make toy donations on this day to celebrate the holiday spirit of sharing and giving.

All Santa enthusiasts gather in the morning by the landmark Christmas tree at Union Square to show off their many different Santa, elf and reindeer costumes no matter what the weather is like. From heavy rain in 2012 to a beautiful sunny day in 2013, they flock in large numbers before they disperse to various parts of the city crawling from bar to bar. SantaCon is also a great exhibition of creativity in this tech savvy city with a lot of the costumes and props made from scratch over many days. To watch a bunch of guys and girls in their 20s wearing LED lit costumes with a sprinkle of naughty and a lot of nice dragging each other on a hand crafted sleigh from bar to bar exemplifies the energy of youth amongst San Franciscans. While at the same time, some people choose to be a tad more creative or not creative at all (the choice really depends on perspective). A sight not rare at all in San Francisco and maybe not for the faint hearted, you will also run into adventurous men and women who choose to bare almost all donning just a beard or a hat or a few beads letting the Santa spirit touch them in a more intimate fashion; probably their own way of letting Santa know that they’d like some new clothes as Christmas presents.

Sometimes I wonder… it is events like SantaCon which could arguably be categorized simply as excuses to dress up and party, that really bring people from different walks of life, different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds together under the roof of one city to forget all their worries and concerns and celebrate the joy of Christmas. If only people decided to whole heartedly adopt this spirit every day of their lives instead of waiting for the holiday season or SantaCon, this world would have a lot more to be proud of. But despite some of the drunken revelry and debauchery, San Francisco makes a sincere attempt every year to spread this message through SantaCon and manages to hold up high standards of unity in diversity all year round which makes it one of the most loved cities in the world.


29 Apr 2014