Welcoming New Year with a sense of togetherness | Daily News

Welcoming New Year with a sense of togetherness

A traditional New Year table
A traditional New Year table

The people across the country are suffused with celebrative moods as the eagerly-awaited time of the year has dawned giving them a much-desired break from the humdrum of life.

The traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year, known as “Aluth Avurudda” or “Puthandu” in the two languages, is a perfect time for the people to renew family bonds and friendly connections. It allows the people to freshen up their hopes and purposes in life and get back to work with a new found vigour.

The traditional New Year is celebrated in many households in Sri Lanka, and it is a time-honoured cultural festival that allows all communities to come together to celebrate as one family.

This time of the year is marked with a series of customs and activities handed down from generation to generation such as preparing traditional sweetmeats, gift-giving, visiting relatives, religious observances, worshipping elders to pay respects and seek blessings and also various fun activities known as “Avurudu kreeda”. These events help to nurture a sense of togetherness keeping aside ethnic, religious and many other petty differences among the people.

The last year’s celebrations of the traditional New Year were largely hampered due to the sudden outbreak of the novel Coronavirus and the people were strictly advised to observe the New Year rituals with their immediate family members without moving out of their homes.

Unlike the last year where police curfews were in force in many parts of the country, the people are allowed to celebrate the New Year in good spirits this year under a somewhat relaxed environment. Going by the official statistics, the situation in the country has very much improved compared to 800 plus COVID-19 cases reported daily several months ago.

Having said that, health authorities have repeatedly cautioned the public not to let their guards down as the country is not out of the woods yet, reminding that the irresponsible behaviour of a few could anytime wake up the hibernating COVID-19 monster.

Adjust to ‘New Normal’

The Health Ministry early this month issued a set of health guidelines to celebrate the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in a safer and responsible manner. While immersing in the joys and true meaning of this cultural event, one should not forget to follow those ‘New Normal’ guidelines at all times to keep COVID-19 at bay.

While large scale New Year carnivals or musical shows are not allowed, small scale regional festivals with less than 100 participants at a time are allowed under the guidelines. “Avurudu Pola” (fair for the New Year) and “Avurudu Kreeda” (traditional games for the New Year) are also allowed except the games of tug-of-war and pillow fighting (Kotta Pora), but organizers have been asked to choose an open area and also to often disinfect the items used in them. The participants have been thoroughly advised to follow the golden rules of wearing face masks, keeping social distance and washing hands.

Face mask is not a must for the contestants of “Avurudu Kumari” (New Year Queen), “Avurudu Kumaraya” (New Year Prince) and Fancy Dress Competition when they are performing, but it has to be worn while lining up and waiting for their turn.

This year, many people enjoy a five-day holiday period as the Government declared today as a special public holiday. Most of the people, especially those who return to their homes in outstation areas from Colombo during this holiday, must have been done with their New Year shopping by now. Buying new clothes for family members as gifts is a special feature attached to our traditional New Year. The apparel shops, whose revenue plummeted down last year owning to the Coronavirus pandemic, have got a new lease of life with satisfactory sales during the “Avurudu” season. Last minute shoppers will continue to patronize the clothing shops today as well. Health authorities have requested shop owners to be mindful about the health guidelines and avoid too much crowd.

More buses and trains have been added to the schedule from April 9 for those who travel to their hometowns and villages during the festive season and similar arrangements will be in place for their return. Overcrowding in public transport is a real risk when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. Controlling this problem was also seen challenging for the authorities given the sorry state of affairs in public transport modes in Sri Lanka.

Family time

One may have already noticed that the call of ‘Koha’ or ‘Asian Koel’, a migratory bird in the Cuckoo bird family also regarded as the harbinger of the traditional New Year, is at a peak during this year’s “Avurudu”. This enhances the feeling of this season and is certainly a good omen.

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is woven with the solar cycle, where the Sun crosses from ‘Pisces’, the last of the 12 zodiac signs, to the first zodiac sign ‘Aries’ in an astrological perspective. The beauty of the New Year’s Day that adds value to this cultural event is that the pre-announced auspicious times, familiarly known as “Nekath” in Sinhala, make the whole country perform the same rituals at the same time.

The auspicious times are set for the lighting of the hearth, commencing work, doing first transaction, and partaking of the first meal on the New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 14. More rituals performed widely at auspicious times on days that follow the New Year’s Day include anointing oil and leaving home for work.

A new auspicious time for planting a sapling was added to the traditional New Year recently with the intention of cultivating environment friendly habits among the public, especially the younger generation. This year, the Environment Ministry, under its national programme “Husma Dena Thuru”, distributed many saplings to plant at the auspicious time of 6.40am on April 16.

Health authorities request the public to observe the New Year rituals only with a small intimate group of people one frequently meets. They also request the people to engage in religious observances during “Punya Kalaya” or “Nonagathaya” (a transition period with no auspicious times) in their homes and take all health precautions if visiting places of worship is necessary.

As is customary, milk rice will be cooked in many households on the New Year’s Day and it will serve as a perfect breakfast as this year’s “Nekatha” for partaking of the first meal falls at 7.41am. Previously prepared mouth-watering sweetmeats such as “kevum, kokis and mun kevum” will decorate the New Year table as usual.

In essence, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is all about spending quality time with your family. It is a chance to show gratitude for the people whom you love and care for their part in your life. Lose yourself in the joys this season offer, but do not forget to give due regard to health guidelines.

The rest of the days of the year will be “happy and prosperous” true to the common New Year greeting if all of us behave in a socially responsible manner to prevent the spread of COVID-19.