In a quaint Los Angeles neighborhood, where children spend summers away and the hedges are pruned high to block out the incessant buzzing of city traffic, lives the Singh family.
The Singhs moved into the area from London nine years prior, shortly after their daughter Ellie was born. Los Angeles felt more like home to them now; enough time had passed for the wounds to nearly heal from their unexpected and painful departure from London. With the arrival of Ellie and a new community, the Singhs looked to Los Angeles as a fresh start. Arun and Grace Singh had made a pact to each other: This home would be a place where all religions and ethnicities are celebrated and accepted. What this meant, in practice, is that each year they would choose a set of holidays from all different religions to celebrate together as a family.
To Grace, this wasn’t that radical of a concept. After a childhood characterized by daily church service and mandatory weekend Bible study, she had grown distant from her Catholic faith. The pan-religious idea was harder for Arun to digest. He grew up as a devout Hindu and had always imagined fully carrying on that faith with his children. The new parents hoped their open-minded approach would in time lessen the heartache of not celebrating the Hindu and Catholic holidays with their immediate families.
The first year was bumpy, with Grace enthusiastically recommending one custom after another, while Arun tried to thoroughly learn about one belief at a time. It was important for him to convey to Ellie the meaning and background of each holiday, not just the excitement of the festivities. They eventually struck a balance between exploring and understanding, and were overjoyed to see Ellie grow into a happy child with a loving heart.
With the ushering in of Spring, the family was in full swing preparing for Easter and Holi. Ellie and her friend Lucas walked to the backyard, carrying matching wicker baskets with colored dust, dyed eggs and fine-tip paint brushes. Although many kids had come to the Singh home, Lucas was the only classmate who kept returning. The rest, after disapproving stares from parents and gossip among classmates, decided to take their iPads to play at other, more conventional households.
“Ellie, what are people called who celebrate Holi?” Lucas asked, as he sat down in the freshly cut grass and began to eye the bright assortment of dusts in his basket.
“It's usually celebrated by people of Hindu faith from India, so we would call them Hindus,” Ellie said, “But Papa says anyone who wants to celebrate the love of Lord Krishna and his wife Radha can join in on Holi.” Ellie picked up a lavender egg with one hand and a paintbrush in the other, imagining how many polka dots she would paint.
“The stories you tell me about all of the holidays are so cool!” Lucas said with an easy smile on his face. It disappeared as quickly as it formed, his gaze dropping down to a few yellowing blades of grass. "I overheard some kids yesterday saying how you shouldn’t celebrate Easter or any other holiday outside of your faith because you’re not Christian, but I don’t know why they even care.”
“I don’t know either, but I’m used to other kids talking about my family," Ellie said unfazed. When I asked Mama she said that the people who say things like that don’t get the point of holidays in the first place.”
“Then what is the point?” Lucas asked, his legs hugging the basket while he leaned in towards Ellie. “Why do you celebrate so many different holidays?”
“When I was really little, Mama and Papa told me that sometimes people worry more about how to celebrate than why to celebrate. So around New Year’s we decide which holidays we’ll learn about that year, and spend the rest of the year talking about how the native people of that holiday show love and thankfulness!”
Lucas’ easy smile returned, and he gave Ellie an enthusiastic nod before turning his attention back to his basket. The two children continued on with their crafts, as the sun’s rays melted into the red house. Ellie and Lucas resumed discussing topics more customary for nine-year-olds, like who their favorite superheroes were and which flavor of Pixie Sticks (Grape, Orange, Blueberry or Cherry?) is the best. Later on, Lucas opened the red package of dust and threw it at Ellie, and they played until the fireflies emerged with the colors billowing up into the night sky.
Only a few steps away, Arun listened, unseen behind the maple trees in the backyard. Their conversation, simultaneously casual and earnest as children’s conversations tend to be, filled him with pride. At the same time, his eyes brimmed with tears as he recalled his last conversation with his parents ten years earlier. ‘It was so abrupt,’ he thought, ‘and all because I told them I would be celebrating Christmas with my new wife instead of coming home for Diwali.” He surely thought that Grace would leave him after both sets of their parents severed communication, but she only became more resolute in their love. Arun looked towards Ellie, astonished by his beautiful little girl so full of love, and he continued on his way to hide Easter eggs for the tomorrow's hunt.
Readers - PART II will be released on September 28th and will share Arun and Grace's journey before they arrived in Los Angeles. Please share your thoughts with me on PART I and subscribe to stay tuned!