A Hindu Answer to the December Dilemma
The five-day festival of Pancha Ganapati provides a meaningful alternative to Christmas.
BY: Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
"Daddy, why don't we have Christmas?" That question was heard in so many Hindu homes we visited that, some years ago in cooperation with scholars and elders, an alternative for Christmas was conceived. It's interesting that in 1966 the Afro-American community created Kwanzaa, a social, Black-identity, earth-based festival celebrated each year from December 26 to January 1. Our own Pancha Ganapati is a festival to the five-faced elephant God. It is five days of gift-giving and festivities within the home, especially for the children. There is no need for a tree (eco-advocates appreciate this), nor wreaths, nor a Santa. Lord Ganesha does it all in five days of merriment and mirth.
Those who have taken up this home festival from December 21 through the 25 have enjoyed it year after year. It can include outings, picnics, feasts, exchange of cards and gifts with relatives, friends and business associates. Each day a tray of sweets, fruits and incense is offered to Pancha Ganapati, often prepared and presented by the children. Chants, songs and bhajanas are sung in His praise. After puja, sweets are shared as prasada. Each day gifts are given to the children, who place them before Pancha Ganapati to open only on the fifth day. Greeting cards are exchanged, always offering Hindu wisdom or verse from scripture.
During each of the five days the entire family focuses upon a different sadhana. Because of the importance of this festival as a new beginning and mending of all mistakes of the past, a festive shrine is created in the main living room of the home. At the center is placed a large wooden or bronze five-faced statue of Lord Pancha Ganapati. If this is not available, a large picture of Lord Ganesha will do. Each morning the children dress or decorate Ganesha anew in a different color: golden yellow on December 21, then ruby red, royal blue, emerald green and finally brilliant orange. These are the colors of His five powers, or shaktis, adored by all.
The sadhana for the first day is to create a vibration of love and harmony among the immediate family. The day begins early as all work to design and decorate the shrine with traditional symbols, rangoli, lamps and more. After a grand puja invoking the spirit of Pancha Ganapati, the family sits together to share their love. If strained relationships have arisen during the year, they make amends for misdeeds performed, insults misspoken, mental pain and injuries caused and suffered. Gifts are then exchanged and placed unopened before Pancha Ganapati.