People of all ages take part in Surrey’s annual Vaisakhi parade in Newton — but not this year. (File photo)

VAISAKHI IN SURREY: Best wishes from Horgan and others as celebrations are curtailed

Surrey’s annual Vaisakhi parade was to be held April 25, but it’s been cancelled due to COVID-19

On Monday (April 13) and beyond, Vaisakhi is celebrated in Surrey and around the world with the words “Vaisakhi Diyan Lakh Lakh Vadhaiyan,” which means “best wishes for Vaisakhi” in Punjabi.

The annual harvest festival is considered the holiest day in the Sikh faith.

While Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi as a celebration of the formation of the Khalsa more than 300 years ago, Hindus mark the day as the solar new year and celebrate it in various forms across the Indian subcontinent.

Vaisakhi looks very different during the current COVID-19 pandemic, now that parades and other gatherings have been put on hold.

In mid-March, Surrey’s annual Vaisakhi Parade was cancelled for 2020. Organizers of the event, which was scheduled for April 25, said they made the “difficult decision” to cancel the event “until further notice or a significant change in the transmission of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.”

On Monday, Premier John Horgan said people will this year find new ways to celebrate and connect with each other – “by video chat, phone or visiting from a safe physical distance,” he stated.

“I know spending this day apart from loved ones is very hard. I will miss walking in the vibrant Vaisakhi parades and experiencing the generosity and kindness of the Sikh community. But, now more than ever, we must do everything we can to keep ourselves and others healthy and safe.”

(Story continues below video from 2019)

• RELATED STORY: Virtual Vaisakhi initiative aims to celebrate by helping others.

Horgan said the Sikh community has always shown compassion and generosity to those who are struggling.

“Now, when people around the province are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the community is providing free meals to low-income families, supporting seniors in isolation and raising money for workers who have been laid off.

“I would also like to acknowledge the national blood drive campaign that the Sikh community is holding with Canadian Blood Services to help save lives. I am deeply grateful for this selfless community service. Today, and through Sikh Heritage Month, I wish health and happiness to the Sikh community and to all British Columbians celebrating this day.”

• READ MORE: Surrey Vaisakhi Parade cancelled amid COVID-19 outbreak.

On Monday, B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson also offered his best wishes to those celebrating Vaisakhi.

“Our province has proudly been home to the largest Vaisakhi celebration in North America but this year, due to COVID-19, celebrations all around the world have been cancelled,” Wilkinson said.

“Instead, British Columbia’s Sikh community is providing important community supports and services in this time of crisis, continuing a long history of Sikh contributions to the social and cultural fabric of our province.

“Pandemic or not, Vaisakhi is still a special time where we celebrate new beginnings. It is my sincerest hope that this new year will mark a turning point for us all and usher in a time of health, happiness, and prosperity for all.”

• READ MORE: VAISAKHI IN SURREY: The five Ks of Sikhism explained.

In an email, the World Sikh Organization said Vaisakhi is a time of “great celebration for our community,” as the event commemorates the inauguration of the Khalsa.

“Choosing to become a member of the Khalsa signifies freedom of belief, the concept of warriors with spiritual dispositions, and the rejection of inequalities based upon caste, ethnicity, race, and gender,” stated the board of the Canadian organization.

“Every year, Sikhs across the world celebrate Vaisakhi by going to gurdwaras, doing kirtan and seva, and partaking in langar. Many Sikhs also choose the occasion of Vaisakhi to take amrit and accordingly amrit sanchars are organized in almost all communities. The most visible and vibrant celebration of Vaisakhi are nagar kirtans or Khalsa Day Parades that take place in all major cities that have a significant Sikh population. The Surrey Nagar Kirtan attracts almost 500,000 every year and Toronto’s Nagar Kirtan has a crowd over 100,000.

“This year, as a result of COVID-19 physical distancing restrictions, all gurdwaras have been closed and nagar kirtans have been cancelled. This will result in a much quieter community celebration of Vaisakhi; however, the Sikh spirit is strong. In lieu of in-person gurdwara programs, we encourage you and your families to participate in live streamed programs being offered by gurdwaras around the world. Sikhs are also organizing innovative virtual campaigns leveraging social media. Please be sure to get your kids involved in all such efforts to ensure the momentous day is observed and the community still has an opportunity to connect and celebrate.”

• RELATED STORY, from 2019: Surrey’s Baltej Dhillon, first Mountie to wear a turban, speaks about acceptance.

Also on Monday, National Police Federation (NPF) president Brian Sauvé released a statement to mark Sikh Heritage Month.

“The National Police Federation joins all Canadians in commemorating Sikh Heritage Month. We express gratitude for the many contributions Sikh Canadians have made to Canada, as well as to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP),” Sauvé stated.

“This month, the NPF commemorates trailblazers like Baltej Singh Dhillon, the first turbaned RCMP officer in Canada, and the many Sikh-Canadian officers that have followed him in strengthening the RCMP while keeping Canada safe. Their example has been an inspiration to future generations of RCMP officers.

“We regret that, due to the circumstances of COVID-19, we are unable to celebrate Sikh Heritage Month in person this year. Despite our physical distance, we have been inspired by the stories of local Gurdwaras from across Canada stepping up to support those in need during this global health pandemic. The service displayed to our most vulnerable has been a shining light during this difficult time.”

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