Kids Corner

Kids' Corner

Buttons, Jump Ropes & Chocolate Cake




Every year, when December rolls around, there is much buzz about the holiday season. From Hanukah to Kwanzaa and, of course, Christmas, it is a time of gatherings, decorations and gift exchange.

Inevitably, while shopping for presents for teachers, friends, and family, our children will convince their parents to get them a special something too. There is the feeling of celebration in the air, but many Sikh children may be unsure if this is a significant time for them in any way.

Guru Nanak's parkash gurpurab is usually in November and Guru Gobind Singh's is in January, with Shaheedi of the Sahibzadey in December; with a little effort and planning, we can step up in our communities and give Sikh kids a celebration of their own that they can take pride in and teach their friends about too.

On 5 January, 2011, a few of San Antonio's local Sikh families here in Texas, U.S.A., celebrated Guru Gobind Singh''s Gurpurab. The celebration was specifically for children. We had 13 children in attendance that evening, the youngest one five months old, and the oldest eight years.

The evening began with Rehras Sahib, followed by dinner, and then a saakhi and an activity. It was a wonderful time and if you didn't know what went behind the scenes to make it happen, you would think that it was just a casual occurrence.

Lots of ideas and excited planners can cause anything to seem effortless.

The two eldest children, six and eight years old, had been asked to share the saakhi of Bhikhan Shah and Gobind Rai with the group. During the transition from dinner to Saakhi time, they quickly went to a quiet area in the house, and began practicing their parts. Every now and then, an adult would be pulled over by one of them to aid in pronouncing a word or phrase. Finally, they felt they were ready to share with everyone.

As they took turns reading from their two sheets the littlest ones were naturally distracted, but the older kids listened a little more attentively and the parents listened very carefully!

After the two presenters had concluded, the adults began to ask interested, comprehension questions: Who was the story about? Who was Gobind Rai? Where was he born? What was Guru Gobind Singh's father name? (A hint or two came up for this question:"He was a Guru!" ... "He was the Ninth Guru!")

Hands flew up as the children eagerly shared the answer: Guru Tegh Bahadar! From there, the parents asked: Did the children know who Guru Gobind Singh's children were? And who their grandmother was? After establishing the basics and getting everyone excited about volunteering the answers we sought, the parents moved the discussion on to Bhikhan Shah; how he took the two pots, one full of water and one with milk, to the child, Gobind, and the latter placed his hands on both, signifying fairness towards both the Hindus and the Muslims.

After all, the importance of the saakhi was to show that we need to treat everyone equally and fairly.

One of the most exciting parts of the question and answer session was the fact that our two young presenters were devising their own questions for everyone and trying to answer the questions from the adults too. It was amazing to see how easily they assumed the responsibility of their role and worked to keep the other children engaged. They even ended with an original poem about Bhikhan Shah that they had come up with as a pair during their practice session together!

After the saakhi, everyone took part in an activity simple enough for all the children to understand, but still a lot of fun for all! Using a raised khanda, the children covered it with colored origami paper and made a rubbing of the shape with crayons. The adults felt a great nostalgia for their own childhoods, when they would make rubbings of coins, so naturally they loved joining in to help the kids.

After the khanda had been transferred onto the paper, parents and children worked together to write out their names in the space above the khanda, some in English and some in Gurmukhi. The entire project was contained in a circle, just the right size to cut out and put into a plastic button with a pin on the back. Afterwards, the young artists proudly put their buttons on their shirts, displaying their creativity and their calligraphy.

The two eldest girls, Tavleen and Kiran, were great helpers during the activities - future Sikh camp counselors in the making!

The evening wouldn't have been complete without some yummy chocolate cake decorated with colored sprinkles. After the children savored their slices and collected a goody bag each , they left for the night.

I am sure the above sounds fun and exciting - a great way for any family to pass an evening - but let's take a deeper look behind the scenes. I want to share with you how a celebration like this comes together: what components need to be part of it and how, with cooperation and the benefit of many voices, the inspiration for a celebration can make the planning as important as the evening itself.

Some of the local women here in San Antonio come together on Thursday evenings for Gurbani meetings. What began as an opportunity for all of us to share and talk through the hukamnama of the day, led to group listening sessions by Pinderpal Singh on different topics, each  followed by discussion.

Afterwards, in going over our questions and ideas, we found we were always coming back to children and discussing many different ideas for projects we could design that would lead them to create their own discussion and sharing groups. When the conversation arose, of how to celebrate Gurpurab this year, we were ready to bring everyone together for another evening, but with extra special planning for the kids this time!

It took several days to orchestrate the evening, lots of phone calls, a shopping trip, and a wide range of ideas were put out on the table! We neared a decision to make a Khanda snow globe - a project we had wanted to try from an activity book, and with a great change to give it a Sikh twist! When we couldn't identify the right materials to use for the globe, we went back to the drawing board, but the Khanda was in our minds now.

In the next couple of days, one of us found the raised Khanda, and concocted the plan to make Khanda rubbings to go into the plastic buttons. The craft would be manageable with the kids in the age range we would bring together. Looking through our library of books at home and online, we found the perfect saakhi. We simplified it some to help the children better understand it, and we sent it to the older girls' parents ahead of time so they could practice and get excited.

Everyone wouldn't have felt right if the host did all the cooking, so over e-mails we decided that the evening meal was to be pot luck. A simple meal with veggie rice, daal, dahi, salad and acchaar was enjoyed by everyone. And, as mentioned previously, the chocolate cake almost stole the show!

We also carefully planned the goody bags, so that children would take home little gifts from the celebration that would remind them of their fun evening of learning. We strove to put together gifts which would be appropriate for the wide range of ages, from less than a year old to eight! Everyone got a jumprope, to encourage healthy, active play. Then everyone had some sort of an art activity that was at their level of engagement, and the little ones got a sparkle ball. Each child got his/her gifts in a yellow
bag and we had printed out a sheet for the front to say "Happy Gurpurab", followed by the name of the child in Gurmukhi.

We made a little game out of picking out the bags, having children identify the recipient by the Gurmukhi names. It was as fun planning and filling the bags as it was seeing the children receive them!

All in all, the evening was a wonderful way to bring many families together and to leave children with an event they will remember for a long time. Next time children consider being impartial to someone, we hope that they will draw on the saakhi they heard that night, and remember Guru Sahib's message.

Next time there is a Christmas or a Hanukah celebration at a friend's house, we hope our children will be proud to say, "We celebrate Gurpurab," if someone asks them what sorts of days are special for them.

Next time one of these children jumps rope, we hope they remember that Guru Sahib asked us to strengthen our bodies, and next time they do an art activity, we hope they remember that we need to be creative in everything we do. And of course, we hope that all will keep these values important and vibrant in their homes.

We would love to hear your ideas for planning celebrations in your own community.

It's amazing what a routine Gurbani meeting can lead to!

[Jasmine Kaur is the Director of Education at the Sikh Research Institute, which is based in Texas, U.S.A. She has a Bachelor's in Sociology and Elementary Education and has completed her Master's in Science in Human Development, with a specialty in Family Studies. She currently focuses on tools for Sikhi education.] 

January 12, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Manpreet Kaur (Stanford, California, U.S.A.), January 12, 2011, 11:34 AM.

What a great way to integrate Sikh values and history into a familiar forum for kids. Consider giving kirtan in audio to the real young ones - my almost 5-month old is already developing an affinity for listening to kirtan. Her early exposure has made it possible for her to sit in the sangat at gurdwara contentedly.

2: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), January 12, 2011, 12:26 PM.

Be in the company of seekers of Truth (sadh sangat). and amazing things happen. This is the proof. Thank you for sharing - I know many others will do the same.

3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), January 12, 2011, 5:10 PM.

A seeding operation done at that age would produce unimaginable sweet fruits. I remember we would get together as a family to recite Rehras and get each one to take turn to recite the saloks. At the end, take turn to lead the ardaas. Now they are all married and have their own children. All our four daughters to this day remember some of the Nitnem banis by heart. I am not sure how much they were able to pass on to their own kids, given the present day distractions of TV and computer games. Once in a while I do get one of the grandchildren between their ubiquitous activities like Taekwando, chess, piano classes and tuitions, to slip in a word or two. Recently I had our youngest granddaughter, Mira, as a lovely captive audience and told her that if she repeated 'Waheguru' at all times, He would protect you and you would become the cleverest in her class. As a further incentive, I keep a supply of tally counters and gave her one to keep tab of the number of times she had repeated Waheguru. This went on at least for a few days. One day I saw her again and asked how the count was going. Her reply bowled me over: "Nana, I don't use the tally counter now but I repeat in my heart at all times." I am sure Waheguru listens to her. Thanks, Jasmine beta, for sharing "Buttons, Jump Ropes & Chocolate Cake." Like Farid, the gurrh (jaggery) slipped under his prayer mat by his mother would do wonders. Bless you.

4: Rajvir Kaur Gill (United Kingdom), February 23, 2011, 4:26 AM.

Such an evening sounds like great fun for all ages. I help to run CEDF Punjabi School in Birmingham, U.K. and we are always looking at innovative ways in which to engage with our pupils and, more recently, parents through family learning, workshops and seminars. We are planning our first workshop and are hoping it will be a resounding success! Love the idea of combining art, religious stories, family and food! Would love the recipe for chocolate cake.

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