Vaisakhi: Celebrating the Sikh New Year

Vaisakhi (sometimes spelled Baisakhi) is traditionally beginning of the harvest season in India. Typically falling on April 13, the day also marks beginning of the Sikh Nanakshahi solar calendar. Since 1699, it has also been recognised as the origin of the Khalsa or commemoration of the beginning of Sikhism – hence Khalsa Day – that further added to the reverence and fervor of the festival.

According to Statcan, Canada is home to over 450,000 people of Sikh faith, mainly concentrated in the Greater Toronto and Vancouver Metropolitan areas. The community celebrates Vaisakhi with much zeal and is driven by their pride and enthusiasm for sharing their rich culture and history. Vaisakhi or Khalsa Day Parades are organized across Ontario and BC and is attended by community members in large numbers. Participants from other ethnicities and cultures are also welcome at this rich cultural event, which features floats, community performers, music and of course Bhangra – the highly popular, signature Punjabi cultural dance. In April 2015, Toronto hosted the 30th Annual Khalsa Day Parade, which was attended by more than 85,000 people from all walks of life. Similarly, the Surrey Khalsa Day Parade last year saw an even bigger turnout – over 300,000 people.

Justin Trudeau at the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade in April 2014

Justin Trudeau at the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade in April 2014 (Source: Ottawa Citizen)

Vaisakhi celebrations are vibrant and have been full of cultural traditions and enthralling historic rituals. The day begins with families dressing in new, traditional clothes and participating in special prayers at the Temple (Gurdwara). Food is also a big part of the celebrations. Traditional Indian and Punjabi foods are featured at breakfast, lunch and dinner including favourites such as Puri (deep fried dough) with potato curry, veggie Pakora (deep fried fritters) as well as sweets such as Laddu (ball shaped flour and sugar confection) and Gajjar Halwa (rich carrot dessert).

Over the years, multicultural marketers have made concerted efforts to reach out to the Punjabi community across Canada for their share of mind. Some big box retailers such as Walmart and No Frills have actively wooed the community during Vaisakhi given that this festival and food go hand-in-hand. Others have also leveraged the event to talk to the community when the general “mood” is positive.

Clockwise: NoFrills Vaisakhi Flyer 2011; Calgary MoneyGram Vaisakhi Mela 2015; Walmart Baisakhi Flyer 2013

Clockwise: NoFrills Vaisakhi Flyer 2011; Calgary MoneyGram Vaisakhi Mela 2015; Walmart Baisakhi Flyer 2013

No doubt holidays and festivals are a great time to not only communicate but also truly connect with communities. However, multicultural marketers need to look beyond the ordinary when trying to make real connection. As a major ethnic segment in Canada, businesses across GTA and VMA in particular, develop communication campaigns specific to the Punjabi community. Hence there is already significant competition among brands for their share of mind.

Not all products or services may be right fit for such an occasion, but even for the ones that are, underlying cultural and religious nuances need to be given due consideration by marketers. Done right, relationship marketing during such revered festivals can pay significant long term dividends.

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