Paryushan, Thanksgiving, Christmas
Georges Budagu Makoko, Publisher of Amjambo Africa, celebrates Christmas
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, ever since I was a child. Back in DR Congo, Christmas was the time when so many people from different villages came together and celebrated the birthday of Jesus. There were no gifts involved, maybe one article of new clothing to wear on Christmas Day. But the joy of people celebrating with singing and teaching was amazingly heartfelt, and the Christmases of my childhood have left me with everlasting memories. I still enjoy Christmas here in America, but I do not like the fact that everything about Christmas has become commercialized, and less attention is given to the real meaning of Christmas.
Welcoming the Stranger celebrates Thanksgiving
On November 13, about 130 people who are connected with Welcoming the Stranger (WTS) and Maine Association for New Americans (MANA) celebrated Thanksgiving together in Portland with a mix of American and African foods. WTS is a program of MANA, and the event was a revival of WTS’s pre-COVID annual Thanksgiving tradition. The meal brought together volunteers and program participants to celebrate community, and was hosted by Gateway Community Services in their community room. Welcoming the Stranger matches asylum-seeking families with volunteers who give them a warm welcome to Greater Portland. For information about volunteering, see wtsmaine.com/mentors/.
Micchami Dukkadam: A day of and for forgiveness
By Rupal Ramesh Shah
I grew up in Tanzania and now live in America. As an Indian, I have experienced different customs, traditions, festivals, and holidays. I also lived and worked in Haiti for about four years, which added another cultural lens to my view. I consider myself privileged and blessed to have been immersed in many diverse cultures – I have had the opportunity to learn from, appreciate, and embrace the uniqueness of each culture.
In my lifetime so far, the holiday that stands out as distinctive is one that is celebrated by Jains all around the world. It is called the Day of Forgiveness.
According to the Pew Research Center, Jainism is one of the world’s oldest religions, originating in India at least 2500 years ago. The basic principle of Jainism is Ahimsa, or nonviolence and equality of all life forms.
Paryushan is the main festival of Jainism. The festival lasts eight days, based on the lunar calendar. During those eight days, Jains gather to worship. Some fast during that time, although it is not mandatory. On the eighth day, which is also the final day of fasting, Jains observe the Day of Forgiveness, which is known as Micchami Dukkadam. In the ancient Prakrit language, Micchami Dukkadam translates as “If I have caused you harm, I seek forgiveness.”
On the eighth day, we say “Micchami Dukkadam” to everyone we encounter. Many gather in temples or similar settings to say “Micchami Dukkadam” to those who live in their community. Others make phone calls to family, relatives, and friends who live far away to ask for forgiveness. On this day, Jains make a deliberate effort to say “Micchami Dukkadam” to those they care about.
The holiday originates with the realization that our minds are constantly busy and occupied with daily activities. Our actions reflect what is going on in our world – physical, social, or emotional. According to
Jainism, we attract various types of karma into our souls. While most people strive to act in ways that are kind, thoughtful, and loving, at times we may act poorly. We may unintentionally hurt or harm those we love. Therefore, Jains have dedicated a day to seek forgiveness for misgivings and poor deeds, and to be introspective to ensure that similar misdeeds do not occur in the future. It is a time for self-awareness, and reflection. Micchami Dukkadam occurs after some have fasted for eight days. As people fast, their bodies have been cleansed and minds have become sharper, which encourages contemplation.
Devout Jains go a step further and request forgiveness from all living beings in the world, including microorganisms, plants, and animals. It is even a day to ask the Earth and environment for forgiveness for all the harm we have caused. After all, we live and work in this world every day, and oftentimes we are not grateful for our Earth and the surrounding environment.
In addition to asking for forgiveness, Jains are expected to have open hearts to forgive others for their wrongful actions. This is a humbling moment, as many of us have a hard time forgetting – and especially forgiving – those who harm us. Jainism teaches us that by forgiving, our hearts and souls become lighter. As others forgive us, we are requested to humbly forgive others.
According to the dictionary, to forgive means to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake. Ultimately, the person who forgives is released of resentments and thoughts of revenge. Many religions describe forgiveness and elaborate on it in their religious texts. In most religions, there is a recommendation to forgive and to move on, so that all people involved feel lighter, better, and stronger within.
In recent years, I have thought a lot about the festival of Micchami Dukkadam and what it means to me. For me, it has been a time of deep reflection. As I call and connect with others on that day, I realize how important those people are to me and that no matter what their actions have been, our relationship is stronger because there is room for forgiveness. I have also had to find the courage within me to ask for forgiveness for any hurt I have caused to others. This special day has helped me to understand and appreciate that all humans are imperfect and though our actions are always well-meaning, they can sometimes hurt others. We must always be humble enough to seek forgiveness.