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SPIRIT OF THE SEASON: Sikhs adopt Christmas traditions
Ashlie Mandare said December means certain traditions: A big tree at home, baking cookies, shopping for gifts both in Yuba City and Chico.
And on Christmas Day, she'll gather with family for a big meal. She might even attend a religious service. At her Sikh temple.
Mandare, 24, is like many other Sikhs who reside in the Mid-Valley: Not of the faith for which Christmas is one of the most important days of the year, but an active, even joyously so, participant in many of its associated customs.
"It's part of our culture in America," said Mandare, of Gridley, now studying for a master's degree in accounting at California State University, Chico. "We try to fit in the best we can."
Mandare said her family's Christmas traditions began with her soon after she began watching holiday specials as a kid, then taking part in Christmas-themed activities at school. She eventually convinced her grandparents, who raised her, to put up a tree and decorate it, then spread it to the house and then she began shopping for gifts.
"Every year became more elaborate," she said.
Many other Sikhs have celebrated Christmas for decades, stemming from both embracing local traditions as they emigrated to the United States and their familiarity with Christianity from missionaries centuries ago in India.
Tejinder Dosanjh, a member of the board for the Tierra Buena Sikh Temple, said he sees little conflict between being an adherent of one religion and observing some traditions associated with another.
"The community is getting closer and closer," he said last week outside the temple, itself decorated with colorful lights.
Sikhs celebrating Christmas is as natural as non-Sikhs enjoying events such as the annual temple parade in November, he said.
For other Sikhs, celebrations in December mirror Christmas but are more tied to their own faith.
Baje Thiara, a Live Oak native, said some families mark this time of year with celebrations for the birthday of revered Sikh figure Guru Gobind Singh, which falls on Dec. 22.
"They even have a Sikh name for Santa Claus," said Thiara, whose family settled in Sutter County more than a century ago. When they exchange presents, some call the practice "Giftmas," she said.
Thiara said her family celebrated Christmas for as long as she can remember, down to picking out toys at the long-departed Ernie's Toyland store in Yuba City.
Any potential conflict between religious observances never came up, she said.
"Everyone has a different belief system," said Thiara, who now lives in San Francisco. "We're taught God is God. There wasn't a fear built in, that we had to reject it."
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.