As the sun moved out of the house of Pisces and into the house of Aries on Monday, many from the country of Sri Lanka celebrated the Sinhala and Hindu New Year.
“This is the biggest cultural even in Sri Lanka,” Manoj Peiris, a graduate student and president of the USF Friends of Sri Lanka student organization, said. “It’s like Christmas.”
To celebrate the new year, Peiris and other students from Sri Lanka will help host a festival commemorating the holiday this Saturday in Riverfront Park, consisting of traditional songs and food of Sri Lanka as well as various games.
While the event will include universal games such as tug o’ war, there will also be Sri Lankan food including rice, curry, milk rice and “kokis,” which are made from flour, milk, sugar and salt.
“Though we are in the USA, we want to keep the tradition,” Hansapani Rodrigo, a member of the student organization, said.
Peiris and Rodrigo said this will be the third year the organization hosts this event. While Sri Lanka is home to millions, Peiris said the immediate area around USF is home to about 300 people from Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka is a small island, so as a small group it is a pleasure to have the community gather so we can share everything,” Rodrigo said. “We feel like we are not 1,000 miles away from our own country.”
One tradition is for all members of the community to cook together and eat at the same time, Peiris said, to share unity and begin the new year together. It is for this reason, he said, that no matter where in the world one may be, all members of the Sri Lanka community try to meet together around the holiday.
Another tradition of the Sri Lanka holiday is cleaning out the fireplace to show a fresh start. While the group in Florida won’t be cooking on traditional fireplaces, Rodrigo said many come together to cook at the same time to show a fresh start.
“It’s a new beginning and a new year,” she said. “We are starting the whole year freshly.”
Though one would be expected to meet with grandparents and other relatives to show a continuing and active relationship with family, Rodrigo said all friends and community members are invited to come together if one cannot be at home with family.
“For all the students from Sri Lanka, we want to give the experience to make them feel like they are back home,” she said.
Thilanki Rajaguru, also a member of Friends of Sri Lanka and a graduate student majoring in civil engineering, said the event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and is open to the public.
“Even if you are unfamiliar with the holiday, it has been happening in Sri Lanka for over 2,000 years, so it would be a different experience to get involved in,” Rajaguru said.