A land of festivals! This indeed we are.
The now on-going Chinese New Year celebrations with the many colourful fireworks that fill our skies are a good testament of one such festival amongst many here in Sarawak.
In some countries, people only have the opportunity to celebrate a limited number of events due to their lack of diversity.
In Sarawak, owing to its vast diversity, it is always ‘that time of year’ when one of its many communities is joyfully planning and celebrating some form of a festival.
These festivities are either cultural or religious, but very importantly it brings together its community, families and friends.
A core aspect of our many festivities is getting together and socialising between peoples.
Our unique open house concept is part and parcel of these festive celebrations. The ‘open house’ is actually one of the main cornerstones linking our diverse communities together and I still have clear memories of the various Christmas, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Gawai open houses that my father brought me to as a kid.
Perhaps before the Covid-19 pandemic, the open house was taken for granted and only now we really realise the importance it plays in our communities.
It was Aristotle, the Greek philosopher who said, “Man is by nature a social animal” and that “Society is something that precedes the individual”.
However, with the essential Covid-19 restrictions and SOPs in place, these festive celebrations have been severely curtailed to prevent and manage the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The celebration of these special festive occasions during the pandemic has been very different compared to those in years gone by.
All these essential safety measures have inevitably dampened many facets of religious celebrations.
Added to this is the fact that places of worship also act as community centres for many other activities.
This amongst others includes important activities such as language classes, religious studies, welfare activities and many other community-based activities.
Last year the Miri Indian Association had to cancel the celebration of Indian New Years (a combination of 10 regional Indian celebrations), Holi (the Festival of Colours) and Diwali (the Festival of Lights).
These celebrations were normally celebrated with much enthusiasm by members of the Indian community and their friends.
However, the cancellation of these public based events was of course accepted by the community as a necessity and understood by all.
Another important component of the festivities is the informal gatherings and family traditions that accompany these celebrations.
These family reunions have had to be scaled back to a limited number of family members as can be seen from the recent Chinese New Year family gathering SOPs.
Managing the disappointment of not being able to mark a festive event which has special significance the usual way, can be challenging for some.
It is only natural that you might want to be with your loved ones in person during such festivities.
Nevertheless, be comforted by the fact that making sure they are as protected from getting the Covid-19 virus is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your loved ones and friends.
For the moment this is a reality we have to accept and hope that perhaps things will return to ‘normal’ in time, especially with the vaccination programs being rolled out worldwide.
Worldwide religious festivals have had to adapt to the pandemic ‘new normal’.
In the years to come, we will be talking about how we coped and celebrated festivities during the pandemic.
This ‘new normal’ has however led to some creative ways for people to continue connecting with people and still have cherished memories.
Some families and friends gathered via easily available online video links to have a meal together.
Others like my Chinese neighbour packed some Chinese New Year snacks and passed them over to my family to enjoy, not forgetting the ang pow for my three kids.
Many such creative forms of celebrations abound. Who knows… some of these might even become the norm one day in the future.
In the meantime, let us look for ways to enjoy the festivities and keep in touch with each other.
In the words of our Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, “Sarawak for all, all for Sarawak” — this ethos will keep us moving forward together as Sarawakians and celebrating each other’s festivities together.
I wish all of you a safe Chinese New Year and do be wise in celebrating.
Gong Xi Fa Chai and Xin Nian Kuai Ler!
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.