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Sikhs mark toned-down holiday amid continuing virus concerns

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Jasbir Singh, left, and Vijay Singh wash a flagpole with milk as part of a ceremonial changing of the Sikh flag during Vaisakhi celebrations at Guru Nanak Darbar of Long Island, Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in Hicksville, N.Y. Sikhs across the United States are holding toned-down Vaisakhi celebrations this week, joining people of other faiths in observing major holidays cautiously this spring as COVID-19 keeps an uneven hold on the country. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

LIBERTY, Mo. – Sikhs across the United States are holding toned-down Vaisakhi celebrations this week, joining people of other faiths in observing major holidays cautiously this spring as COVID-19 keeps an uneven hold on the country.

Vaisakhi, which falls April 13 or 14 depending on which of two dueling calendars one follows, marks the day in 1699 when Sikhism took its current form. Communities typically celebrate by gathering at gurdwaras, or places of worship, for prayer and the reading of hymns, and there are often processions, parades, other activities and food.

While the ongoing pandemic has many people celebrating remotely this year just as in 2020, some, especially in the United States, are joining in masked, socially distant Vaisakhi gatherings.

“Sikh community members, especially those who faced hardships and loss during the pandemic, view Vaisakhi as a fresh start and a sign of hope that things will be better once again,” said Sahej Preet Singh, community development manager at the Sikh Coalition, a national organization based in New York. “The Sikh worldview embraces resilience and Chardi Kala (relentless optimism).”

For the second year in a row, outdoor festivities at the Midwest Sikh Gurdwara and the traditional parade in the city of Shawnee, a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, have been canceled. But in an improvement over 2020, some events will be held at the temple and via social media.

Komalpreet Kaur, a 16-year-old high school student in nearby Olathe, Kansas, said the parade is “the one big event of the year where everyone gets together, and we welcome other members of the community to participate. ... This is like our Christmas, and it’s something we look forward to so much."

"But we are going to find alternatives this year to celebrate,” she added.

Kaur has been lobbying officials in several area cities trying to get them to declare April Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month, so far winning one such proclamation from Lenexa, Kansas. Kaur, who was raised in New York City before moving with her family to Kansas in 2017, said she wants to make others more familiar with her faith.