In my anthropology classes we have been studying Rituals and in particular the Rites of Passage. One such ritual is marking the passage of time such as New Year celebrations. And being Sri Lankan, I celebrate New Year in April, which is when the Sun moves from Pisces to Aries.
I have lived in New Zealand since the year 2000 and have only properly celebrated New Year twice. Once when my sister visited us in Wellington and once when my parents first came to New Zealand. My ex-husband had very little interest in my culture, so there was little incentive for me to keep up with my traditions. This year it was different. Jacob is now old enough to appreciate the Sri Lankan half of his cultural heritage and I felt well enough and able to enough to attempt to carry out the New Year traditions on my own.
The fact that the last day of the old year fell on a Saturday and the first day of the New Year therefore was a Sunday also helped.
As was the custom for New Year, I bought new clothes for Jacob and I. The auspicious colour this year was blue. Then I made sweets, even attempting two New Year favourites, Kokis – a savoury snack made of rice flour and coconut milk and Mung Kavum – made with mung bean flour, rice flour and palm treacle. Both were deep fried.
It is customary to take plates of food with a little bit of everything you made to your friends, family and neighbours. This act of sharing is an acknowledgement that there was give and take between your household and theirs throughout the past year. When I was growing up, this would mean sharing plates of food with about 40 households and I was generally the one designated to take it around to each house in our neighbourhood. It was bad luck to give back an empty plate, so if they celebrated New Year themselves, that household would fill up the plate with their own goodies for you to take back. If they didn’t celebrate New Year, then they would give you something else on that plate like a packet of biscuits or some fruit or keep it to return later when they had something to share with you.
I decided this year that I would share with those friends and family that had been there for me throughout the last 12 months. Where possible, Jacob and I took plates of sweets around to their houses. Other friends came to visit and shared the sweets over a cup of tea. My attempts at making Kokis and Mung Kavum had already passed muster by my mum who had been initially very skeptical that I could do it. From 8pm Saturday night till 8am Sunday morning, it was considered to be “Nonagathaya” or no mans land in terms of time when the Sun was in neither sign. The auspicious times fell very conveniently for us this year and we just slept through that period. In anthropology this is called a liminal phase or an inbetween time. Neither here nor there
At 8am on Sunday morning, we boiled a pot of milk to signify the dawn of the New Year. This is a short video my little man took of this critical moment. The milk boiling over signifies prosperity and good luck for the coming year. (I apologise for spoiling the picture with a camera in hand, but Jacob’s commentary was too good for me to not post this.)
We then made Kiribath or rice cooked in coconut milk. The doctors have now given the ok for Jacob to have coconut, so this year for the first time, he was able to eat Kiribath with me at the appointed time of 11.02am as the first meal of the new year.
I had invited a good friend and his children to come have lunch with us that day. As the first guests into our house in the New Year, they each lit a wick in the Pahana or the Oil Lamp we had prepared as is customary. The meal consisted of Yellow Rice, Chicken Curry, Sweet Potato Curry, Poppadums and Mango Salad. There is no pictures of the dinning table because we were all so hungry we forgot about taking any pictures:).
In the afternoon, we took a meal to a friend who could not join us for lunch and later visited the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple. My parents joined us there and Jacob had heaps of fun lighting oil lamps and incense. We then went back to my sister’s house for a short visit where my mum plied us with all the different things she had made for New Year. We returned home that evening laden with more food.
It was one of the best New Year celebrations I have enjoyed in my life and made all the more special by taking the old traditions and doing them my way……In my early forties, I feel like I have finally become a grownup…..As a friend pointed out, it is a time of rebirth and regeneration and having seen the New Year in according to the old ways of living, only good things can come of it for all of us who took part……