Every April, millions of Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi Day, a day that marks both the New Year and the anniversary of one of Sikhism's most important events, the establishment of Khalsa in 1699 with the first Amrit ceremony.
Vancouverites have two Vaisakhi Parades to choose from in the Lower Mainland: the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade, which attracts about 50,000 spectators, and the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade and Celebration, which attracts 300,000 spectators, making it one of the largest Vaisakhi parades outside of India.
Even some locals may not be aware that the Vancouver metro area also has one of the largest Sikh populations outside of India and the largest Sikh community in the country. In Surrey, most of the city's Asian population are Sikhs, and one of the biggest and oldest gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in North America can be found here as well.
Vaisakhi Day in Sikhism and Hinduism
In 1699, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, formed the Khalsa Panth of warriors to defend religious freedoms, marking the birth of the Khalsa way of living in the Sikh religion. This new way Panth of Sikhism was a pivotal turning point in the religion—one that is celebrated each year during Vaisakhi.
Traditionally, Vaisakhi in Hinduism also marks the beginning of the Solar New Year and is a celebration of the spring harvest. Although it is known by many names—which vary by region and include names such as Baisakhi, Vaishakhi, and Vasakhi—the holiday is typically celebrated in much the same way wherever you go.
During Vaisakhi celebrations, the Sikh temples are typically decorated for the holiday, and Sikhs will bathe in local lakes and rivers in honor of the sacredness of rivers in Sihk culture before heading to the gurdwaras to attend kirtans. Additionally, people often gather to commune and share traditional foods with one another.
Similarly, for the Hindu celebration of the Vaisakhi holiday, you can expect to find harvest festivals, bathing in sacred rivers, visiting temples, and meeting with friends and family to celebrate food and good company.
British Columbia is home to a large Sikh population, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to experience the family-friendly activities and get a taste of a different culture through a colourful day of music, dancing, and sharing food with friends and family.
Parades and Celebrations in Vancouver and Surrey
In Canada, the lively parades usually include live music and free food that has been lovingly prepared by the local community - from businesses to individuals. Festive events are well attended by locals and visitors alike, so it's best to plan ahead and try to reach the parades via transit if possible as parking could be limited and roads may be closed for the events.
Vaisakhi Day falls on Sunday, April 14 in 2019, and the festivities and parades in both Vancouver and Surrey will take place over the following week. It is usually celebrated on the 13 or 14 of April, with local celebrations happening in Vancouver and Surrey on the Saturday before and after the official day.
East Vancouver is the heart of Vancouver's Sikh community and the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, 2019 at the Ross Street Temple. The parade then moves south on Ross Street to SE Marine Drive, west to Main Street, north to 49th Avenue, east to Fraser Street, south to 57th Avenue, east to Ross Street, and finally back to the Temple up Ross Street.
The Surrey parade takes place the following weekend on Saturday, April 20, 2019 and it begins at the Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Temple in Surrey. Just like the Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade, the best way to get to Surrey's Parade is by public transit or go early if you plan to drive there. In addition to the parade and procession, Nagar Kirtan hymns, and floats, there will be free food (graciously prepared by local residents and businesses), live music and rides, and several politicians working the crowds at the Surrey festival. For safety reasons, helium balloons and drones are not allowed at the festival as they may interfere with air traffic.