Sri Lanka. A Buddhist island located in the Indian Ocean off South Asia. A third world country rich with culture dating back to the 5th century BC. The New Year is considered the most important event within Sinhalese culture. Although in some areas, essentials are scarce, through community guidance, strangers are bound together through a shared meal, music and traditional games.
The transition from the old year to the new begins with families travelling to stay with relatives and close friends during this sacred tradition. Doors are kept open as a sign of welcoming outsiders into their commute. From the 1st of April, children will help their sisters, Mothers, Aunties and Nanas to prepare for the celebration. Saffron water will be sprinkled across the house, the gardens will be swept, and parents will refrain from their usual routine. It is important that one cleanses themselves for the New Year.
On the 14th of April, at the crack of dawn, excited children will run outside, clutching onto cheap firecrackers. The rhythm of the rabana and ringing of bells wakes up the sleeping street and neighbours will greet each other with smiles and tight embraces. Holding onto their papa’s hand, children will walk barefoot to the temple and pray for blessings from temple priests through the ointing of hot oil on foreheads.
Back home, milk will be boiled over a clay pot, allowing for a spill to symbolise prosperity. This milk will be used to cook kiribath; creamy milk rice served with hot chicken curry and onion on fresh banana leaves. Children are bathed in herbal water, scrubbing at dirty fingernails and scratching at skulls with soap. The family sits together on the wooden floor with ripe bananas in one hand and kokis, cookies fried in coconut oil, and bibikkan, slices of coconut cake, in the other. Their mother will scold them for taking thirds, but the atmosphere of their conversation will remain friendly. Neighbours will be invited to feast, and through the chatter, children will hear the mating cries of the cuckoo bird.
Elders will receive gifts of betel, the leaves of a shrub that represent gratitude and respect. Children will walk in lines and, in turn, kneel and touch the elder’s feet to their face. A sign of appreciation for the wisdom that comes with old age. Elders will touch the child’s head to accept such praise.
By midday, sugar buns and clay pots filled with cold water are hung on branches, ready to be beaten by eager children with cloth masking their eyes and wooden poles in hands. Hot boiled eggs are thrown to each other with children suppressing giggles as they anticipate who will drop them first. Coconuts are broken, throats gulping the cool water as they race to empty the shell first. Pillows are bound to the chests and backs of adults and wooden poles are given to fight. In the midst of the chaos, elderly women chant in song to express the bond of family and friends coming together to begin a new life. For hours, through the sweat of the hot sun, laughter and cries will be heard until the sun begins to set, having listened to silent prayers for a new year full of miracles. For wealth and success.
When the full moon rises, the exhausted children will be asleep, nestled in the arms of Nana and Papa. When they wake up, it will be a new year for the Sri Lankan child.