A Holiday of Differences

Nov 172005
Authors: Amber Baker

The holiday season provides most students ample opportunity to spend with loved ones, stuff themselves silly or shop until they pass out.

But the holidays mean something quite different to those born into different cultures – including those of Middle Eastern, Sri Lankan and Native American descents.

For Zaki Safar, a native of Saudi Arabia, the biggest holidays on the American calendar – Thanksgiving and Christmas – will pass by like any other day.

"We do not celebrate Thanksgiving because we give thanks to God every day," said Safar, a junior electrical engineering. "We do not need a special occasion to offer our gratitude to Allah."

Safar, vice president of the Muslim Student Association, celebrates only two holidays as a Muslim: Eid Al Fitir, the festival after Ramadan, and Eid Al Adha, which is during Hajj.

Hajj, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, is when Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia's holy city, to visit Al-Masjid Al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque) if they are physically and financially able.

Just before he came to the United States, Safar performed Hajj along with three million other Muslims of all races and languages.

"It was amazing seeing all these Hajjis standing shoulder to shoulder around the Ka'ba ( the focal point of Mecca which is the "House of God" believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael) asking Allah for forgiveness," he said. "It was the greatest experience where one feels equality and diversity."

Erandi Lokupitiya, who came from Sri Lanka to pursue her Ph.D. in ecology, celebrates a wide range of holidays.

As a Sinhalese Buddhist from a predominately Buddhist culture, Lokupitiya chiefly celebrates Vesak in May, which honors Buddha's birth, death and enlightenment. Every full moon day is also a religious holiday where she goes to the temple to do meditation and other religious activities.

While in America, she celebrates Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas, with her sister and American brother-in-law.

"I think it's a great tradition," Lokupitiya said. "And it's great that you have been continuing it for years."

Lokupitiya said the closest thing to Thanksgiving in her country is the Sinhala and Hindu New Year in April. This is Sri Lanka's biggest celebration that both Buddhists and Hindus celebrate together.

The Sinhalese people dress in new clothes, repair their houses, cook and eat at auspicious times throughout the day.

"It's so much fun," Lokupitiya said. "I really miss it. But I still celebrate it on the weekend with my small Sri Lankan community here."

Marcella Talamante, who is half American Indian, takes pride in her heritage.

"I see being Native American as a privilege," said Talamante, senior agricultural business and education major. "Knowing my traditions and cultural values only enhances life around me."

Talamante also acknowledges it's sometimes difficult being of Native American descent.

"Combining the Native American culture with today's society is difficult at times," she said. "It's taken a lot of effort to keep the culture alive. It's sad that we are still fighting for rights to be recognized."

As president of the Native American Student Association, Talamante is actively involved in promoting diversity on campus. Last year, she helped organize the Spring Pow Wow.

Next week, Talamante will celebrate Thanksgiving with her family, though its meaning is not favorable for the Native American tradition. But Talamante said she looks to the future rather than the past.

"I don't look at the Thanksgiving holiday negatively," she said. "I respect those who believe in Thanksgiving. Just as I hope that they respect my beliefs."

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