Pancha Ganapati: My Multi-Observant Holiday

Pancha Ganapati is a modern holiday invented by the people at the Hindu Academy in Hawaii. The idea is to give Hindus in North America something to focus on while the over culture is celebrating Christmas. It reminds me of Hanukkah: a legitimate but minor holiday that took on increased focus as mainstream American Christianity increased its observance of Christmas. I love holidays and completely support people creating alternatives to give certain seasons meaning and/or to diffuse the over culture’s influence, particularly for those people raising kids.

My family has observed both the solstice and Christmas for several years. Last year I discovered Pancha Ganapati. This will be our first year observing it. Ganesh is my family’s ‘patron saint,’ so I think this holiday will fit right in. It consists of honoring Ganesh through daily pujas for five days, beginning on December 21 and ending on December 25. Families are encouraged to move their murtis of Ganesh to the main living area, decorating Him with a different color for each day, observing a daily puja, and discussing each of the five Hindu values.

To give you an idea of how I merge all the holidays, here is what my family’s and my personal observance holiday schedule looks like:

Dec 20 – Personal private Solstice ritual once kids are asleep. This will be Feri in flavor.

Dec 21 – In the morning set up Ganesha altar on the mantle; perform puja as a family; today’s focus is on harmony in the family. We’ll hang some Solstice garlands of dried orange slices on ribbons from the windows. My in-laws will join us for dinner.

Dec 22 – Perform puja; today’s focus is on neighbors and extended family. The kids and I will bake some sweet potato muffins and take them to the neighbors, as well as offer one to Ganesh. I will call some family who are far away.

Dec 23 – Perform puja; today’s focus is on one’s business and larger community. We haven’t figured out a good way to observe this particular day. ‘Traditionally’ the day is for settling debts. Yet, we’re paying our bills every month and can do no more. We also donate monthly to an area charity in honor of Ganesh. I might find some way for me and the kids to be of service in a hands-on way.

Dec 24 – Perform puja; today’s focus is on one’s culture and the arts. Tonight we’ll be attending a candle light carol service at my in-laws’ church, so we’ll get some singing there. I plan to spend the day reading and drawing with my kids. Maybe we’ll watch a movie too.

Dec 25 – Perform puja; today’s focus is on harmony among all the worlds, gods and spirits. We’ll do a slightly longer puja, calling in all of our gods and spirit allies. Then, I’ll make some tea and we’ll open presents. The in-laws and a good friend are joining us later in the morning and staying for the day. There will be lots of cooking, eating, and basketball watching!

None of the pujas will be formally correct (based on what I’ve read). What’s more important to me than exactness is capturing the spirit of the puja and being able to involve my small children. We will have one short prayer. A few simple offerings of candle, incense, and sweets or food, with which the children can help. I’ll read a few of the names of Ganesh and say a few words about the day’s focus. Then we’ll share in the sweets or food that have been blessed. This should take less than 15 minutes.

Jai Ganesh!