At times kindness and generosity reach out to us from unexpected quarters, adding a little magic to our lives. That is what happened to me and my husband at Thanksgiving. The long weekend was approaching and everyone was making plans about how to spend it.
One of my colleagues asked what we were doing for the holiday. “Oh, nothing special. It’s going to be just another long cooking and cleaning weekend for me,” I replied.
But things changed that evening. There was an email in my inbox from Chris Benjamin, a local editor and writer who often contributes to Halifax Magazine, inviting me and my husband to join him and his family for a Thanksgiving dinner. Why would he invite us to his home? I had met him only twice, once in his office and the second time very briefly at the Word on the Street festival. All kinds of questions were going around in my head. “When good things come your way, don’t ask too many questions. Just accept them and be grateful,” my mother used to say.
So I rushed off a note to Chris accepting the invitation and asking if it would be a formal dinner and if there was a dress code. He wrote back saying that it would be an informal get-together and there would be only a few people apart from his family.
When we arrived, we received a warm welcome from Chris and his wife. We sat on their front yard and their young daughter joined us a few minutes later. She was sporting a dress that she had planned to wear on Halloween. After a while we all went into the house. The tastefully decorated, softly lit home had a special charm and I felt happy to be there. Their son came in just before dinner.
The lady of the house laid out a splendid spread, announcing that all the ingredients used were from Nova Scotia. “Buy local, eat local” is an idea that appeals to me. She must have spent many long hours cooking that sumptuous meal; everything was delicious. I thanked her and expressed my appreciation for having us there to share the meal with them. Later we left bearing gifts: an autographed copy of a book written by Chris himself and a lovely drawing by his daughter that reminded me of my ancestral home in Kerala. As we were leaving, my heart silently blessed the family and wished the spirit of that thanksgiving would last till the next.
This wonderful experience made me nostalgic about the festivals we celebrate in India, especially Onam in my own province, Kerala, also known as “God’s Own Country.” Onam is unique because of the endearing legend attached to it. We believe that a long, long time ago, the kingdom of Kerala was ruled by Mahabali, a just king who loved his people dearly and in turn was loved by all his subjects. During his reign, people were treated as equals, there were no tears or sorrow, no wars, peace and prosperity blessed the land. People had everything they needed, and they were happy. A veritable utopia, indeed!
Mahabali was so well known in all the worlds that even gods became jealous of him. They knew that the king was undefeatable and so they tricked him into accepting banishment to the underworld. But he was granted a boon, that once a year he could come back to the earth and visit his people.
So we celebrate Onam to welcome King Mahabali. The harvest is in, there is celebration and thanksgiving all around. The houses and streets are decorated with flowers and colourful lights. Women decorate their homes, inside and outside, with intricate designs using fresh flowers and coloured powders. Swings are put up and the women decked in their traditional attire join in the fun. Everyone wears new clothes. Families come together to celebrate the festival.
Gifts are exchanged by friends and relatives. Onam Sadya, a grand meal of 26 delicious vegetarian dishes, is prepared and enjoyed by all.
During the Onam week, boat races, cultural performances, and folk dances are held all over Kerala. Carnivals are a great crowd puller and children as well as grown-ups enjoy the activities. In short, the whole atmosphere reverberates with joyful sounds and we believe Mahabali is delighted to see his happy subjects again.
In Halifax, Thanksgiving is an important occasion, but not celebrated in a grand scale. Family and friends get together and share a meal and give thanks for the bounty of Mother Earth. And I was happy to be a part of that celebration. I will remember the day with joy and gratitude.
If everyone was kind and generous and accepted all people as equals, forgetting their individual differences and varied cultural backgrounds, we could create a perfect world just like Mahabali’s. A world of peace and harmony, a world of happiness and laughter. Isn’t this what we all long for in our heart of hearts?