Diwali was celebrated on Wednesday, in Trinidad and Tobago. On occasions like that I miss being home for the celebrations. Trinis often joke about the number of public holidays the country has. There are about 14 official public holidays per calendar year, from Christian holidays like Christmas to Emancipation Day (from slavery) and Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Liberation Day. Imagine my surprise when I moved to England to find that they were the grand total of 8!! I couldn’t understand the concept of a Bank Holiday, a holiday with no background in religion or culture. While I’m feel I’m totally integrated into life in the UK, I miss that feeling of togetherness that comes from a mass celebration.

As an expat, I now have a deeper understanding of the benefits of religious and cultural public holidays. They’re more than a welcome a day off work or school. As Trinidad and Tobago’s national anthems says ‘Forged from the love of liberty… Side by side we stand… Here every creed and race find an equal place…’ I see now that the public holidays were a ‘public’ way of honouring and celebrating what it meant to be a Trinbagonian. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a racial cultural utopia there BUT there is a level of  understanding and acceptance that’s special. Although my children learn about other cultures and religions at school, think it’s more academic to them. I try to share with them my knowledge and experience in the hope that I can make it more concrete for them. I still treasure my memories of lighting my first deya, attending my first prayers for Eid and joining the crowd to watch the Independence Day parade.

Perhaps if our acknowledgement of different religious and cultural holidays went beyond an article in the newspaper or a session in class we would all have a little more respect for our differences, in the UK. What do you think?

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