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Leadership Insights: Embracing Diversity, Supporting Inclusion - Cultural Festivals Around the World

In our series of articles, we discuss topical issues facing the legal industry all through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (D, E & I)


With the benefits of multi-culturalism and DEI being questioned by populist views that seek to polarise, we thought it only fitting to write about the many festivals taking place around the world that share common themes of compassion, hope and unity. Festivals that have transcended borders and barriers to become recognised and celebrated by all, irrespective of belief and race.


As spring awakens the earth with its gentle touch, it also heralds the arrival of a multitude of cultural festivals that celebrate diversity, tradition, and the human spirit. These months are filled with vibrant festivities that honour centuries-old customs, religious observances, and the changing of seasons. From the colourful streets of India to the serene cherry blossom gardens of Japan and the bustling markets of the Middle East, here is a glimpse into the cultural celebrations happening around the globe.





Nowruz


Nowruz, which translates to 'New Day,' is a cherished cultural celebration observed by millions of Persians and people of Persian descent worldwide. Rooted in Zoroastrianism, Nowruz marks the beginning of spring and the Persian New Year, coinciding with the vernal equinox. Lasting for approximately two weeks, Nowruz is a time of renewal, joy, and cultural heritage. Preparations for Nowruz often begin weeks in advance with thorough house cleaning, the purchase of new clothes, and the preparation of special dishes. Central to the festivities is the Haft-Seen table, adorned with seven symbolic items beginning with the Persian letter 'Seen,' each representing concepts such as rebirth, health, and prosperity. Families come together to visit loved ones, exchange gifts, and partake in traditional rituals and festivities. Nowruz embodies the rich tapestry of Persian culture, emphasizing themes of hope, renewal, and the triumph of light over darkness.


During the Achaemenian dynasty the Greek scholar Xenophon describes what could be Nowruz which was celebrated by Cyrus the Great which took place in the ancient Persian capital Persepolis. Nowruz within Zoroastrianism relates to the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. Last year around 300 million people celebrated Nowruz.





Holi


Holi, known as the Festival of Colours, is one of the most vibrant celebrations in India, marking the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Observed on the last full moon day of the Hindu lunar month of Phalguna, typically falling in March, Holi is a time for joyous festivities, community gatherings, and playful revelry. The highlight of the festival is the throwing and smearing of coloured powders and water, symbolising the breaking down of barriers and the celebration of unity and love. Traditional rituals, such as lighting bonfires the night before Holi to symbolise the victory of good over evil, add depth to the celebrations. Holi transcends barriers of age, gender, and social status, bringing people together to embrace the spirit of camaraderie, forgiveness, and renewal. It is a time for families and friends to come together, share sweets and delicacies, and revel in the kaleidoscope of colours, laughter, and music that define this joyous occasion.


Millions of Indians celebrate Holi worldwide. Mythologically, Holi is associated with the legend of the demon King Hiranyakashyap, his son Prahlad, and his sister Holika. Hiranyakashipu wanted to kill his son Prahlada, a devoted worshipper of Vishnu. Holika sat with him on a pyre while wearing a cloak that protected her from the fire. But the cloak protected Prahlada instead, and Holika burned. Later that night Vishnu succeeded in killing Hiranyakashipu, and the episode was heralded as a triumph of good over evil. In many places in India, a large pyre is lit on the night before Holi to celebrate this occasion.


In other places, the story is Vishnu fell in love with the milkmaid Radha, but he was embarrassed that his skin was dark blue and hers fair. In order to rectify this, he playfully coloured her face during a game with her and the other milkmaids. This is thought to be an origin of the coloured water and powder throwing.





Easter


Easter is one of the most significant festivals in Christianity, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, as described in the New Testament of the Bible. It is a time of great spiritual significance for Christians worldwide, symbolising hope, renewal, and redemption. The celebration typically includes church services, feasting, and various traditions such as the Easter egg hunt and the decorating of Easter eggs, which represent new life and the empty tomb of Jesus. For Christians, Easter is not only a religious observance but also a time for reflection, gratitude, and the reaffirmation of faith.


Easter originated as an ancient pagan celebration of spring equinox. In Christianity, this day was dedicated to observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ and celebrated around the same time as Passover. Today’s Easter celebrations come from a blend of Christianity and ancient pagan themes.





Hanami


Hanami, which translates to 'flower viewing,' is a beloved tradition in Japan that celebrates the beauty of cherry blossoms (sakura). Typically occurring in the springtime, when cherry trees bloom across the country, Hanami is a time for people to gather with friends, family, and colleagues in parks and gardens to appreciate the fleeting beauty of the blossoms. Picnics, parties, and leisurely strolls beneath the cherry trees are common during this festive season. Hanami holds cultural significance beyond simply admiring flowers; it symbolises the transient nature of life and the beauty found in fleeting moments. The practice dates back centuries, reflecting the deep connection between nature, aesthetics, and the seasonal rhythms of Japanese life. Hanami continues to be a cherished tradition that brings people together to celebrate the ephemeral beauty of nature and the arrival of spring.


The very first Hanami happened under the impulse of the Emperor Saga, who organised big parties under these famous sakuras at the Imperial Court of Kyoto. Then, during the Edo period, the Japanese started to organize feasts under these trees in flowers. During this ritual, Japanese people gather under the cherry trees to picnic and relax while admiring the sakura flowers. There are certain rules to follow during Hanami. For example, you should not walk or sit on the roots of cherry blossoms. It is also frowned upon to shake the branches or to pick the flowers. Around 60% of the population take part in this ceremony every year.





Ramadan


Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and holds profound significance for Muslims worldwide as a period of fasting, prayer, reflection, and spiritual growth. During this sacred month, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, and other physical needs from dawn until sunset as an act of obedience and devotion to Allah (God). The pre-dawn meal, known as Suhoor, and the evening meal to break the fast, called Iftar, are shared with family and community, fostering a sense of unity and empathy. Beyond abstaining from physical nourishment, Ramadan encourages believers to engage in increased prayers, recitation of the Quran, acts of charity, and self-reflection. It is a time for Muslims to seek forgiveness, purify their souls, and strengthen their connection with Allah and fellow human beings, embodying the values of compassion, empathy, and self-discipline.


Around 2 billion Muslims celebrate Ramadan. Muslims believe that the angel Jibril appeared to Prophet Muhammad pbuh and revealed to him the Quran. This night is known as Laylat Al Qadar or the “Night of Power” and is believed to have occurred during Ramadan. Muslims fast during that month as a way to commemorate the revelation of the Quran.





Eid ul-Fitr


Eid ul-Fitr follows the completion of Ramadan with joyous prayers, communal gatherings, and acts of charity. The day begins with a special prayer called Salat al-Eid, followed by feasting and sharing meals with family and friends. It is a time of gratitude, forgiveness, and unity, where Muslims express their gratitude to Allah for the strength and guidance received during Ramadan. Additionally, Eid ul-Fitr serves as a reminder of the importance of compassion and generosity towards those less fortunate in the community, as Muslims are encouraged to give to charity and support those in need.


Eid ul-Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan. It is based on the lunar calendar just like the beginning of Ramadan so the day it is celebrated changes yearly. It is a time Muslims come together with friends and family to pray, exchange gifts and share meals. It’s a time of joy and gratitude for the blessings and strength given during Ramadan.





SONGKRAN


Songkran, the Thai New Year, is a vibrant and joyous celebration that takes place annually from April 13th to 15th. It marks the beginning of the traditional Thai calendar and is observed with colourful festivities, water fights, and religious ceremonies. Water plays a central role in the festivities, symbolising purification, renewal, and the washing away of misfortunes from the past year. People pour scented water over Buddha statues and the hands of elders as a gesture of respect and to receive blessings for the new year. Additionally, lively street parties, parades, and cultural performances take place across Thailand, drawing locals and tourists alike to join in the merriment. Songkran is a time for reunions with family and friends, expressing gratitude and looking forward to a fresh start filled with prosperity and happiness.


The word Songkran is derived from ancient Sanskrit, the millennia-old sacred language of Hinduism, the language of classical Hindu philosophy and the historical manuscripts of Buddhism and Jainism. Songkran means to enter or pass into and relate to the astrological passage when the zodiac moved from one sphere into the next. During the month of April, the sun leaves Aries and enters Taurus; the period is known as Maha Songkran or Great Songkran, which signifies the start of the Thai New Year.





Passover (Pesach)


Passover or Pesach, holds profound significance in Judaism as it commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt, as described in the biblical book of Exodus. Lasting for seven or eight days, depending on tradition, Passover is marked by various rituals and customs, including the Seder meal, where families gather to retell the story of the Exodus and partake in symbolic foods such as matzah (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, and charoset (a mixture of fruits and nuts). The holiday also involves the prohibition of leavened products, symbolising the haste with which the Israelites fled Egypt. Passover serves as a time for Jews to reflect on their history, celebrate freedom, and renew their commitment to justice and liberation for all people. It is a joyous occasion filled with tradition, prayer, and gratitude for the blessings of freedom and redemption.


The origins of Passover come from the Pharaoh. He was fearful that there would be too many Jews living in Egypt, so he instituted slavery and demanded that male Jewish babies be killed. Baby Moses was saved by his mother, who floated him in a basket down the Nile River, where he was found and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter. After killing a slave master, Moses fled into the desert and encountered a burning bush of God revealing himself to Moses. God told Moses to go to the Pharaoh and lead the Jews out of slavery. Moses went to the Pharaoh and asked that he let the Jews go free from Egypt. Each time the Pharaoh said no, God sent a plague down on Egypt (darkness, lice, boils, cattle disease, etc.). The tenth and final plague was the most drastic: the killing of the firstborn by the so-called angel of death. In order to protect their firstborn children, the Israelites marked their doors with lamb’s blood so the angel of death would pass over them. Thus, the name Passover or pesach.





Vaisakhi


Vaisakhi, also known as Baisakhi, is a significant festival celebrated by Sikhs. It holds historical and religious significance, marking the creation of the Khalsa, the Sikh community of initiated Sikhs. Vaisakhi falls on the first day of the Vaisakh month in the Sikh calendar, typically on April 13 or 14. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm, involving religious processions, kirtans (devotional singing), martial arts demonstrations, and community service activities such as langar (community kitchen) seva, where free meals are served to all, irrespective of caste, creed, or background. Additionally, Sikhs gather at Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) to offer prayers, listen to hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy scripture) and reflect on the teachings of Sikhism. Vaisakhi is not only a time for Sikhs to commemorate their religious history but also an occasion to celebrate the spirit of unity, equality, and service to humanity that lies at the heart of Sikhism.


In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh chose the festival as the moment to establish the Khalsa, which is the collective name given to Sikhs who have been baptised. He came out of a tent carrying a sword and said that any Sikh prepared to give his life for his faith should come into the tent. Five men disappeared into the tent, and the Guru came out alone with blood on his sword. This worried the crowds. That is until the five men then came out from the tent unharmed and wearing turbans. They became known as Panj Piare or the 'Beloved Five' and they were to be the first members of the Khalsa. They were baptised by the Guru who sprinkled them with holy water. This ritual became the basis of the Sikh baptism ceremony. Now tens of millions of people celebrate Vaisakhi.


These are just a few examples of the celebrations of cultural festivals that unfold around the world in these months. Each celebration, whether rooted in religious observance or cultural tradition, offers a touching reminder of the beauty of diversity and the shared humanity that unites us all. As we embrace these festivals, let us also embrace the values of tolerance, understanding, and respect that they embody, fostering a world where diversity is celebrated and unity is cherished.


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