Celebrating Heritage on Campus

by Tina Lin | 2/21/18 1:01am

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by Tiffany Zhai / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Dartmouth, small and isolated as it is, has a rich abundance of different cultures, and students celebrate a multitude of different holidays. Holidays are representative of different heritages, and different groups and organizations on campus help to facilitate the celebration of these respective holidays. The celebration of holidays on campus as opposed to at home will be inevitably different, and a few students have offered their thoughts on the differences and challenges of celebrating their respective holidays at Dartmouth. 

An important holiday that many Jewish people celebrate is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is a day for reflection and repentance when people consider everything that they have done in the past year and look for ways that they can do better in the next year. It is a day where many Jewish people fast and pray in examination of their lives. In observance of Yom Kippur, Dartmouth Hillel, an organization on campus for thwose who identify with or are interested in Judaism, hosts a religious service. Since people fast on this day, there is a large pre-fast meal, and many people gather and eat together. After the fast, there is a post-fast meal, when the fast is broken. Michael Bodek ’19, a member of Dartmouth Hillel, said that the gathering is an experience that allows him to bond with others.

Bodek said that there are some challenges to celebrating Yom Kippur on campus. 

“It’s a day of reflection, you have to detach yourself from Dartmouth to truly examine your life,” he said. “The challenge is taking yourself back from all the hustle and bustle of midterms and social drama and just think about what’s going on in your life and put that all aside and think in the present and past, what you’ve done, what you can do better. I think it’s definitely a struggle to detach yourself and truly look inward.”

Taking a day to step back from the fast-paced life at Dartmouth to reflect on one’s life is not something that is easy. 

Another important holiday that is celebrated on campus is Chinese New Year. This year, there were events hosted by the Dartmouth Chinese Students and Scholars Association and Dartmouth Asian Organization in celebration. CSSA is a graduate student organization dedicated to building a social network among Chinese students, and DAO is an undergraduate Asian and Asian-American interest organization that plans social and educational programming to promote unity and awareness amongst students on campus. DAO hosts open dinner discussions for students to talk about cultural events or about Asian culture in general. 

In celebration of Chinese New Year, DAO hosted a dinner discussion, allowing people to share their experiences and how they celebrate the holiday. The main event DAO hosts is DAO Culture Night, an annual event that features performances from different dance groups such as Dartmouth Asian Dance Troupe, Middle Eastern Dance Club, Street Soul and Raaz.

“I feel like only international Chinese students care most about [Chinese New Year],” DAO president Eric Zhang ’20 said. “When we see each other, we might say ‘Happy Chinese New Year!’ That’s why it’s more important to have these kinds of events for DAO to host. It’s like a place where everyone can come together and truly celebrate it.” 

When asked how it is different to celebrate Chinese New Year at Dartmouth, Zhang said, “In China, there is a week-long holiday for people to go home and get together with their relatives for a reunion dinner. Since we’re in America, we don’t have that opportunity.” 

Zhang still keeps in touch with his family and said he enjoys celebrating the same holiday, even though his family is overseas, and he is in the middle of the woods. In China during Chinese New Year, there are typically fireworks shows, and many houses display red banners on their doors. There is also a Lantern Festival to conclude Chinese New Year where the lanterns symbolize the hope for a bright future. At Dartmouth, however, Chinese New Year can be just another regular day, and Zhang says that DAO tries to create a place for people who celebrate the holiday.

For the Hindu population on campus, Diwali and Holi are both holidays that are widely celebrated on campus, the former more so than the latter. Diwali is the festival of lights, and it occurs on a different date every year; in 2017 it began on Oct. 19 in India. Shanti, a religious group on campus for Hindus, oversees the celebrations of both holidays. This group usually meets every Friday in the Hindu Temple in Rollins Chapel

Diwali is the biggest Hindu holiday celebrated on campus. This past year’s celebration featured a service in Rollins Chapel, lighting of over 5,000 lamps on the Green, a cultural show featuring dance performances at Alumni Hall in the Hopkins Center for the Arts and a home-cooked Indian dinner. 

Tanish Raghavan ’20, a member of Shanti, reflected on Diwali’s importance to him.

“What’s special about Diwali on campus is that since the Upper Valley region is sort of remote from other Indian communities such as Boston, Massachusetts, we’re heavily involved with a lot of people from the Upper Valley region who don’t necessarily have any ties to Dartmouth per se,” he said. 

Holi is a youthful, fun festival that occurs in the spring where people throw colored powder on each other, celebrating love, the beginning of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Since people on campus are of a different age group than those who partake in the festival globally, the holiday is more toned down, according to Raghavan. People also gather in Rollins Chapel and have a meal together.  

Raghavan noted the differences of celebrating the holiday on campus. 

“Definitely back home, I have my family with me and nothing can top that. I think at a lot of places ... we try to create that sense of home for a lot of people because at the end of the day, it’s just being with people who you like, who share the same ideals and spirituality and enjoy that spirituality with them which is something that we do on an everyday basis as Shanti,” he said. 

All of these holidays are celebrated on campus despite the challenges of celebrating away from home, with groups creating spaces on campus for people to come together and enjoy and celebrate their heritage.