Heritage Day – Why do we celebrate it?

heritage day

My daughter(13) asked me,“ Why should I dress Indian and not South African for Heritage Day assembly?  Surely it causes more conflict to emphasise the differences between cultures?”

After doing some homework and having a healthy debate with her as well as having a discussion in a kids philosophy class which she attends, we decided that it would be okay to dress in traditional Indian clothes, but Heritage Day gives us an opportunity to learn and grow which is so much more valuable. This is what we concluded.

Everyone has their unique culture and identity.

The purpose of Heritage Day is to expose people to the differences, to enable us to understand, respect and appreciate other cultures.

There are positive things in every culture.

If we can adopt or even just accept what is good in other cultures, we will grow as individuals and contribute to a more unified South Africa.

This exposure helps us to open our minds and be comfortable that there are so many ways to learn and live.

But its also a time for an individual to try to learn more about their own culture. What are the values and traditions that it embraces? Do those values and traditions make sense to you? If you are aware of your own culture and believe in its values, you will be able to share it with others.

For example. One of the values of Indian culture is hospitality, so in an Indian home guests are always welcome. I visited my father’s sister’s home in a village in India and was amazed that they were so hospitable. They lived in a mud hut with no running water and cooked over an open fire, yet they welcomed us with open arms and gave us their beds to sleep in, whilst my 67 year old uncle slept outside on the porch.

So I would really recommend that each of us do two things on Heritage Day:

  1. Try to find things which are meaningful in your own culture and share it with others
  2. Learn something about another culture.

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Jayshree Sita

Jayshree Sita

Jayshree Sita, a mom who traded the life of a chartered accountant to become a teacher and now devotes her time to her  family and to studying Vedanta philosophy. She’s also passionate about self-development and youth development.

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2 Responses

  1. Is it just me or do you find the use of 'culture' these days problematic? I dread my kids' school celebrating Heritage Day by asking the children to dress up in traditional wear. Last year Kayl and Kyra went to school in their ordinary clothes and certain teachers scolded them for not dressing appropriately (what about popular culture?). Who should decide what is appropriate, what our family traditions are and how best to represent these? I could buy clothes that suggest an Italian, Irish, Scottish or German (and probably quite a few other nationalities too) heritage for my children, but I feel this would be completely artificial and removed from their lived experience as South Africans and members of our family (how many Germans today wear lederhosen on an average day anyway? I would probably end up having to hire a fancy dress costume). Simplistic, static and stereotypical ideas of culture and tradition spouted about around Heritage Day are potentially quite damaging to those who don’t fit so easily into certain moulds and do nothing to celebrate anything other than conformity and absurdity. My son's best friend is Zulu, but I have never seen him scantily dressed in animal skins and I wonder how his parents will deal with the school's ideas of heritage? https://jzk.co.za/2wn

    1. I feel you may have missed the reason for culture dress up. As a teacher I can tell you Heritage day is to teach children about theirs and others heritage. The whole point is to find out about one of your nationalities and culture at a time and discover interesting things about them. Children know about the culture they live in, we want to teach them about the past and the wonderful and important things that came from people working together in a culture and believing that things should be a certain way. Not everything schools do are to make your life difficult, they are their to grow your children’s world and inspire them.

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