Elegant dinners, lavish spending, and nights out on the town are all different ways of having a good time. We all like to treat ourselves every now and then. A night out at an expensive restaurant is a great way to celebrate a special occasion. We gather all our family and friends together, and spare no expense in the celebration. Fifty dollars steaks, hundred dollar bottles of wine, and savory soufflés are the staples of fine dining in America.
Consuming food is necessary in order to properly maintain the body and satisfy hunger pains. Regular food items, such as vegetables, grains, and milk, are relatively inexpensive. Yet for special occasions, we don’t mind spend a little extra on something that normally doesn’t cost much. We like to have fun, and going out to expensive restaurants is exciting and it gives us something to look forward to at the same time.
Devotees of Lord Krishna similarly like to have lavish celebrations. It is a misconception that religious people don’t know how to have fun. In fact the Vedas advise us specifically to become servants of the Supreme Lord and that such service will be more fun than any ordinary material activity. Being religious doesn’t mean that we have to sit in quiet meditation and renounce all our activities. On the contrary, the highest form of religion is referred to as devotional service, which is full of action and excitement. Serving God means satisfying our spiritual senses and having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have. Since the Lord has appeared on earth many times in different incarnations, devotees use the calendar year to celebrate specific pastimes that the Lord performed during His time here. Couples very much in love often celebrate many different occasions and anniversaries aside from the standard Valentine’s Day and birthdays. Most married couples have a celebration each year on the calendar day of their wedding. However, newly formed couples might celebrate each month or each week on the day that they formally became a couple. They essentially look for any opportunity they can get to celebrate their love and affection for each others.
In a similar manner, devotees look for any opportunity they can get to celebrate a particular activity or appearance of Lord Krishna. The Lord specifically gave us these holidays so that we could have fun serving and remembering Him. Festivals likes Krishna’s birthday, Janmashtami, are celebrated with great pomp around the world. Devotees spend lavishly to decorate temples and their homes. Expensive flowers are purchased and offered to the Lord. Devotees gather around to sing songs and read stories about Krishna and His pastimes. Elaborate food preparations are made and offered to the Lord. Devotees fast and remain awake until midnight so that they can celebrate the exact time that the Lord appeared from the womb of Mother Devaki. The Lord’s appearance occurred around five thousand years ago in the town of Mathura, and it was under trying circumstances. Devaki and her husband Vasudeva were prisoners of King Kamsa, who was Devaki’s brother. On the day of their wedding, a voice from the sky informed Kamsa that his death would come at the hands of the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. For this reason, he locked up both Devaki and her husband, and killed each of their first seven sons. Krishna’s appearance was a cause for celebration, not only because He was God, but because His appearance signaled the end of the couple’s suffering since He was to kill Kamsa.
When Lord Krishna advented on this earth and was growing up in Vrindavana, He specifically instituted a great festival Himself, known as Govardhana Puja. Krishna’s foster father, Nanda Maharaja, regularly performed puja, or worship, to the demigod Indra. Lord Krishna convinced him to have a puja for Govardhana Hill instead. His specific instructions were,
“Prepare very nice foodstuffs of all descriptions from the grains and ghee collected for the yajna. Prepare rice, dahl, then halavah, pakora, puri and all kinds of milk preparations like sweet rice, sweetballs, sandesha, rasagulla and ladoo and invite the learned brahmanas who can chant the Vedic hymns and offer oblations to the fire. The brahmanas should be given all kinds of grains in charity. Then decorate all the cows and feed them well. After performing this, give money in charity to the brahmanas. As far as the lower animals are concerned, such as the dogs, and the lower grades of people, such as the candalas, or the fifth class of men who are considered untouchable, they also may be given sumptuous prasadam. After giving nice grasses to the cows, the sacrifice known as Govardhana Puja may immediately begin. This sacrifice will very much satisfy Me.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ch 24)
Govardhana Puja was subsequently performed, and it has been a tradition ever since. It was due to Lord Krishna’s kindness that He gave us this and many other wonderful festivals to celebrate. So let us spare no expense is glorifying the Lord. The Christmas Holiday is very nice, but why not dedicate every day to God? Living by this principle will make us happy and joyful throughout the year. The Lord has innumerable pastimes that we can celebrate, so there is always something to look forward to. By celebrating in this way, we purify ourselves and have fun doing it. We get the same thrills and excitement as having an elegant night out on the town, with all the spiritual benefits included.