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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Sure, Christmas is fun and all: when malls set up a giant tree, when Bath & Body Works sell out of peppermint candles and evenwhen Mariah Carey dominates the entirety of Canadian radio stations. However, our eurocentric and consumerism standards drill in our minds this idea: Whenever we gather with humans, it seems as though money is always involved. (Christmas, Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and so on). 

From a sociological standpoint, such emphasis on spendings can cause an issue: ones who cannot afford to empty their wallets for a fancy dinner date on Valentine’s Day often feel like they cannot enjoy the celebration to its fullest. Meanwhile, those who can spoil their lovers and brag about their Michelin-star restaurant dinners can easily spike jealousy among their financially-suffocated peers. 

The question becomes more and more curious: Are we doing this whole ‘celebration’ thing right? Are we truly honoring the cathartic nature of social gatherings, or are we secretly perverting our anthropological nature? 

Here’s how the others do it. From celebrations to traditions, and everything in between.

Holi – India

Holi makes the Colour-Run marathon look like child’s play. Holi is an ancient Hindu festival where people throw powder colours at each other. The outcome is to play, laugh, forgive and forget. It lasts for one full night and day, and provides the perfect comedy relief while friends and strangers spray each other with water guns and water balloons. 

It is a holiday that celebratesrenewal of a spring harvest season. The night before Holi people gather and perform religious activities by praying in front of a bonfire, in hope of destroying their internal evil spirits the way they destroyed Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu by burning her.

Sak Yant Tattoo/Yantra Tattoo- Thailand/South Asia

Who knew tattoos could look so ancient and sacred? Paired with harmonious geometries and animals, this tradition spread across southeast asia: India, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, laos, Myanmar, etc. The symbols first stemmed from indigenous tribes, but then became associated with Hindu-Buddhist concept of “yantra”, and mystical meditative patterns. The application of these tattoos is akin to a dip-and-poke method by hand, which makes this tattoo all the more intimate, sacred and beautiful. 

These tattoos are also believed to possess magical powers. Some designs include: the “Suea” (Thai: เสือ; translation: tiger) – typically depicts symmetrical twin tigers. Represents power and authority, and usually made in a beautiful backpiece. Also common is the:  Ong Phra (Thai: องค์พระ; translation: Buddha’s body) – one of the most commonly used elements in Yantra tattooing, but can also be a more complex standalone design. Meant to provide insight, guidance and illumination,

Voodoo Ceremony in Benin

The word “voodoo” has a somewhat negative connotation in the western world, but the ceremony has a far more symbolic meaning than what most people know. This voodoo ceremony in Benin, Africa, has been around for 10,000 years and has been demonized during the European colonization but is in fact a ceremony to ask the gods for a favour to achieve happiness and prosperity. In fact, Voodoo means “soul” and “Strength”. Fetishes (statue/objects with supernatural powers) are usually decorated with horns, shells, nails, feathers, mirrors, metal, string, varnishes, cloth, raffia, fur, beads and herbs. It is celebrated by 60% of the Benin’s population, and expect a lot of drumming and dancing. Animals are also sacrificed, and all of the meat is consumed without any waste.

Hungry Ghost Festival – Malaysia

Common for Buddhists and Taoists, this festival aims to aid “Hungry ghosts”. The idea stems from that people become a regular ghost/spirit when they pass away. However, for those who passed in exceptionally tragic and unresolved incidents – they become hungry ghosts: Hence why food offerings differ depending which type of ghost you are providing for. As for ancestral worship, prayers are made by family members of the deceased in their homes, and food offerings include favourite meals by their deceased loved ones. Around the prayer altars, sometimes the dishes are accompanied by three bowls of rice, three sets of chopsticks and three cups of Chinese tea or rice wine. These items represent Heaven, Earth and the Underworld. This type of activity can bring families together to empathize with the ones who have left this realm while providing understanding and closure.

Starkly different from western traditions, some of these celebrations are a far stretch from what we are accustomed to. Most celebrations outside of western influences don’t revolve around money, but mostly revolve around spirituality and acknowledgement of a world beyond our own. Who knows, maybe we can learn a thing or two from ancient practices outside of our comfort zone.

Ruisi Liu

Toronto MU '23

Ruisi Liu is a film student at Ryerson from Ottawa who enjoys drawing and binge eating thai express shrimp rolls (the rice paper wrapped ones). She also watches too many philosophy and Vox docs on YouTube. Instagram: @ruisi.liu
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