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Ring in the new, keep up the old

Well, it’s 2012. I’ve just realised how ironic it is that I always mark the start of a new year by looking to the past. For some reason, my family have developed our new year traditions.

On the days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, we start clearing out the rubbish and tidying up the house. The idea is that everything is tidy by New Years Eve. After dinner, we’ll have a shower and change into some fresh clothes and wait, probably watching TV. When the New Years Eve programme on BBC1 starts on, we have our respective drinks balanced on our knee (metaphorically speaking). Then, when Big Ben starts striking, we’ll stand up with our drinks. When it strikes 12 and the fireworks go off on the TV, we’ll raise our glasses and do the hug and kiss thing. Then we watch the rest of the fireworks and start going to bed.

Om Tamil

'Om', the basic symbol of Hinduism, in Tamil

On New Years Day, my mum and I will be the first to wake up, as we will go for an early communion service. (On a normal Sunday, I usually go to a different church, which is less traditional and younger age range.) When we get home, we all go to Hindu temple (as the rest of the family is Hindu). You’re probably wondering why, as a professing Christian, I would go to temple. I don’t believe in the Hindu gods as such, but I go for the family and for cultural reason. It doesn’t feel like a good idea to be divided at the start of the year (call me sentimental). I don’t pray there but I hope I act respectfully. After all, it’s what in your heart that counts. God can see my motivations. Anyway, I personally believe that the various Hindu gods a representations of the one true God. For example, Amman, the goddess of justice, represents the aspect of a single God who loves justice.

When we get back home, we carry out a ceremony called ‘Kai Viyalum’, which involves the exchange of money between us – we have to give something that is goldish (pound coin), silverish (50p, 20p, etc) and bronzeish (1p or 2p) and, if feasible, a note. The tradition is this exchange of money must be first time we touch money in the New Year and before exchanging, we pray to God to bless it. The key thing is that this money is not meant for just spending, but for saving for a while. It’s probably pretty obvious why I participate in this tradition. After ‘Kai Viyalum’, we have a lunch of milk rice (essentially rice cooked with coconut milk) with various curries. I think milk – as it comes from the cow – is considered in Hinduism to be a life-giving substance, but milk rice is also quite nice with certain curries.

Whilst I don’t call myself a Hindu and don’t believe in it, it is a part of my roots and culture and, to be honest, there is vibrancy in Asian and Hindu culture that is absent from European culture and Christian worship. Don’t get me wrong, I attend a conservative evangelical church and the atmosphere is vibrant and it is a community but not like Asian communities. Anyway, as a British Tamil,  I am constantly straddling two cultures which do at times clash. They key is to reconcile the two. I think Christians certainly can learn a thing or two from the way Hindus worship and vice versa.

If I was to think about this in a Hegelian sense, I guess there is a dialectic between my Christian faith and Hindu roots. The two are contradictory like thesis and antithesis but they can shape and be shaped by each other in synthesis. I can’t cut off my Hindu roots because it is a part of me, so I might as well adapt it to worship Jesus. Catherine Malabou would probably call this le voir venir, that she translates as ‘to see (what is) coming’. I interpret that to mean pausing to reflect, looking back at what went before and thinking how to proceed to deal with what’s coming. In a sense, New Year’s Day is a moment of  le voir venir and certainly I look to tradition to celebrate the new. But actually my whole life has been like that, both looking at tradition and looking forward and thinking whether the two can be combined. I can’t cut off my Hindu roots but I can’t go back to being Hindu having discovered Christ. I am in 2012, so I can’t go back to 2011 or before but I can’t forget what’s happened because that’s how I got here.


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