Living and studying in Amsterdam taught me how holidays are a rarity in the Netherlands, as it is seldom the case that you find the educational calendar marked red for the sake of celebration – although the King’s day does seem to be an apparent exception in this country. This is unfamiliar to me, given that I come from Bali, an island full of rituals and special days. In this article, I will share what it feels like to discover a novel side of “celebrating” that emerges when you are stranded away from home.
The day of silence
Whenever my international friends here ask me what my favorite holiday is, I always answer assuredly that it is the Hindu Balinese Calendar’s New Year, also known as Nyepi or The Day of Silence. Not only does this answer bring a funny look to their face, but it also makes them curious, and gives me an opportunity to share anecdotes. A true embodiment of its name, the holiday is centered around the idea of being silent, moderate, and still throughout one day. Well, one may ask, what does this even mean? On the outside, this translates into a whole island shutting down: airport closed, flights stopped, roads completely unscathed by traffic, people having to retreat home and have their lights off for an entire day. Nature gets a day off too as the air is cleaned of pollution. From a more philosophical perspective, the holiday is meant for self-reflection, which can be achieved by following the four guidelines of Nyepi: amati geni, amati lelungan, amati lelanguan, and amati karya, or in English, no fire/light, no traveling, non-indulgence in sensory pleasures, and no work/action.
Nyepi is a holy day, and the celebration is manifested both internally and externally by the whole community in Bali. This is why it saddened me a little to not be able to celebrate this silence in the comfort of my home, however, it did give me an opportunity to discover a new type of mental peace.
The real solitude
Being a Balinese, I have always found it fascinating and rather amusing how amidst all the endless, long-lasting rituals and parades that the Balinese are obsessed with, the peak event – the beginning of the new year – in the Balinese calendar is to be celebrated by simply doing nothing. No festivity or noise, as looking inwardly is the core idea of the special day. However, in truth, a few days before Nyepi many locals would flood the hallways of supermarkets, ready to stock their fridge and go on a feast-mode (because everything shuts off during Nyepi) countering all the philosophical significance of the day.
As I lock myself in my house and use minimal lighting throughout the day, the lack of festivity displayed by those around me (as they are simply not aware that such a holiday existed in the first place), and the absence of my family compels me to draw back from my routines and dive into contemplation.
In that sense, although celebrating Nyepi away from home in Amsterdam certainly comes with its disadvantages, looking back, I realize that it provided me with the luxury of experiencing a heightened level of solitude. As I lock myself in my house and use minimal lighting throughout the day, the lack of festivity displayed by those around me (as they are simply not aware that such a holiday existed in the first place), and the absence of my family compels me to draw back from my routines and dive into contemplation. This is something that I would not be able to fully immerse myself in back at home, as I would be too distracted by checking my other Balinese friend’s Nyepi updates on social media for example. In Amsterdam, on the other hand, I decided not to touch my phone for the entirety of the day. In short, celebrating Nyepi away from home allows me to look beyond the holiday’s festivity and familiarity, and focus on the philosophical essence behind the holiday instead. Not to mention, the current situation with the semi-lockdown in place in Amsterdam also made it easier for me not to fall into self-indulgence and be aware of the state that the world is currently in – another thought to reflect on for that day.
Shared fate across faith
Interestingly – although not surprisingly – a similar situation and understanding seem to unfold amongst my Muslim friends. This month marks the month of Ramadan, and while I only had to endure one day of celebrating away from my home, my Muslim friends have an entire month of dedicated fasting to experience without the company of families. According to a friend of mine, similarly to my experience during Nyepi, fasting lets her look beyond the exuberant side of the holiday that usually comes with an abundance of various dishes and countless occasions of group reunions during Iftar, and instead focus on moderation that is a key concept behind the idea of fasting.
However, instead of wallowing in that puddle of blue, it could be useful to use this solitary state as a way to rediscover the essence of those special days, looking beyond festivity and into solemn contemplation, just as how my Nyepi in Amsterdam was.
Regardless of your beliefs, when special holidays that are inherent to your culture resurface during your time abroad, it is easy to slip back into homesickness and feeling stranded. After all, studying abroad and living alone comes with its highs and lows. However, instead of wallowing in that puddle of blue, it could be useful to use this solitary state as a way to rediscover the essence of those special days, looking beyond festivity and into solemn contemplation, just as how my Nyepi in Amsterdam was.
Cover: Kelly Sikkema
Edited by: Gaukhar Orkashbayeva