News & Stories

Diverse Voices | Religious Festivals

The Power of Celebration

The latest Diverse Voices session, Religious Festivals embraced togetherness among people of different religions during this festive season.

Raised in a Christian Catholic family, Christmas has always been one of the highlights of my life. However, I have always been curious about how colleagues from different religions embraced their festivals and how this shaped their lives. This is why I decided to attend the latest Diverse Voices session. It was an engaging and special presentation shared by followers of five different religions that left the attendees with one main thought; the irony of diversity is how similar we all are.

Naomi Cohen, Communications, Policy and Engagement Director at CHP started sharing about Jewish celebrations. Surprisingly, we discovered that Chanukah was a minor festival and that there are more important holy days, such as Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. She explained with great detail each festival, its customs and symbols, and what these meant for her.

Judaism amazed me because their festivals are not only various but also extend, lasting up to eight days. Unfortunately, Naomi affirmed that celebrating every festival and work does not always match, and there could be periods when Jewish colleagues would need consecutive days off. She asserted that CHP is conscious of this struggle, and they have developed a policy that allows 2 days off for religious reasons. If you’re interested in knowing more about this policy, contact Charlotte for further information. 

Next up was CJ Sohal, Reporting Manager at CHP who explained to us about Sikhism, one of the biggest religions in India. Vaisakhi, their major festival, celebrates the Sikh New Year and commemorates their baptism ceremony. CJ described how equality has always been a keyword for them, illustrated in their temples’ communal kitchen, where everyone sits on the floor and shares. Being new to this religion, I was surprised to hear that around Christmas was a time of mourning, but it is still a time of giving.

Lesley Burrows, Positive Footprints Managing Director, chaired and took part in the session, talking about Christianity. She highlighted how important were their festivals in her life and how Christmas signified an act of faith and humbleness. In their tradition, shepherds who back then were unvalued in society, were the first to be invited to meet the son of God and this has defined how Lesley lives her religion and values. An interesting fact was that Christmas was originally a pagan celebration.

Zabeda Khatun, Development Project Manager at Calico Homes went on to share about Islam. Born in to a Muslim family, Islam has been a personal journey for Zabeda and it was not until a few years ago that she has fully embraced her religion. Their main festival is Ramadan and it is an opportunity to grow spiritually and become closer to Allah and their loved ones. She was taught to be careful with some words, such as jihad. Despite the negative perceptions, this means an internal struggle or effort to live the Muslim faith as well as possible.

The last speaker was Nikki Chawda, Director of Housing and Neighbourhoods at EMH Homes who spoke about Hinduism. Life is a celebration for Hindus and Nikki was glowing with excitement while explaining about their major festivals, especially Diwali, the festival of lights. It was interesting to hear how living her faith has helped her during lockdown; being always connected to everyone comes naturally to Hindus and this has been a massive support for their mental health.

It was heart-warming to see that all religions shared a sense of connectedness and community. Music and dance bring joy to their celebrations and food becomes a symbol of happiness and being together. It was a profound session, where no matter the religion, being a believer shaped the speakers’ lives.