To modern people living in today’s rapidly changing 21st century, holidays are mere rest days. However, the word holiday is derived from ‘holy’ and ‘day’ which means a day of religious obligation compliance. In modern times, the meaning has expanded to include both religious and non-religious celebrations. In other words, a national holiday is not just a day of rest but a day that of commemoration. The Sookmyung Times met three foreign students and asked them about special holidays in their home countries.
Q1 What is the most celebrated holiday in your home nation? Could you provide our readers with a brief introduction to the holiday’s historic background?
The best-known traditional holiday is the Dragon Boat Festival (DuanwuJie), which falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar calendar month. During the Warring States period, two opposing states, namely Chu and Qin, caused this holiday. As a cadet member of the Chu royal house, Qu Yuan served in high offices. However, when King Chu made the decision to ally with the powerful state of Qin, Qu opposed the decision. He was deemed a traitor and the punishment was banishment from the Chu state. Twenty-eight years later, Qin seized control of Ying, the capital of the Chu kingdom. In despair, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.
The Japanese holiday of Shogatsu is celebrated each year on January 1st. It’s the Japanese New Year holiday. On this day, mothers do not cook the meals. All meals are prepared by other family members. In East Asian culture, women traditionally do all the housework due to Confucianism principles. Japan is no exception. For that reason, this holiday begins to give mothers a break from cooking for the family.
Well, since Brunei Darussalam is a Muslim country, our biggest celebrations are Islam-related holidays like Ramadhan or Eid. However, we also celebrate our country’s National Foundation Day and the king’s birthday. Indeed, our country was never conquered by another nation, but we were always under the control of the UK as a British protectorate. 1984 marks the year our nation got independence and was no longer a British protectorate. Interestingly, though we obtained independence on January 1st, our nation celebrates its independence on the 23rd of February.
Q2 What do people typically do to celebrate that holiday?
Three of the most widespread activities during the Duanwu Festival are preparing and eating Zongzi, drinking wine, and watching or competing in dragon boat races. When Qu’s body could not be found after his drowning, people dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. For this reason, it is still customary to make sticky rice balls or Zongzi. Also, it is said that people, raced out in boats on the water to try to rescue him and then later to at least retrieve his body. This is the origin of the dragon boat races.
On Shogatsu, we usually make Saechan together with family relatives. Japanese people prepare Saechan, a dish served to New Year guests, which if not eaten quickly, will spoil easily. Each of the dishes has an individual meaning. For example, by making a dish of Herring Roe, Japanese are praying for prosperity. Also, Black Soy Bean dish symbolizes a wish for good health and diligence. Throughout the holiday, people eat and drink merrily. Also, in order to ensure a healthy life for the entire year, we visit a shrine.
On National Day (February 23rd) every year, students come to the city center to put on a special performance in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan. Typically, they dance wearing colorful clothing and use props. Students start practicing for this performance a month before the actual day. On the king’s birthday, on July 15th, we do very similar events as National Day, but soldiers will also take part and perform before the king and royal family. The royal family visits the stadium to watch the performances by students, government workers, and soldiers. Along the roadside, people can be found standing and waving our country’s flag.
Q3 What does the holiday mean to you and to the people of your country?
The Dragon Boat Festival is held to commemorate the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan. It reminds people about and calls for patriotism. I’ve never taken part in a dragon boat race, but I’ve eaten Zongzi and drank Realgar wine. One day, I hope to join in a race during the festival. However, the races are generally held in northern China and in places where rivers flow, so unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to go there. My hometown is in Liaoning province. It is neither in the northern part of China, nor is there a river nearby.
The biggest aspect to Shogatsu is that it gives mothers a break. In my case, on Shogatsu, I like enjoying the time spent with relatives. I usually receive New Year gifts from them, so I love this holiday. However, after getting a job and earning my own money, I will need to present my younger relatives with gifts rather than receive gifts. Therefore, I am little sad that I cannot receive gifts my entire life. Also, nowadays, some department stores and shopping centers have big sales on the holiday. I am also really excited that I can go shopping with friends or family and get some great deals.
Every year, there is always a theme to the performance and it is always something related to the enhancement of our generation in terms of strength, national patriotism and freedom, so we feel very proud of it. I joined the performance in 2007 when I was in middle school. I got really tired from all the practice because I had to practice every day and my skin got really tanned. However, on the day of the performance, I cried a lot because I was so happy to perform in front of our king. It was fun to go through that experience with my friends and classmates.