Harry Singh at Tadka, where he will be working this Christmas

Read in Spanish / Leer en español

Harry Singh is hesitant to get too excited for the holidays this year. He usually has big plans and a packed schedule in December, but this year things are still uncertain. 

“I’m stuck here,” Singh said one Tuesday afternoon, gesturing around the small Indian pizza shop where he works. His friend and co-owner of Tadka Indian Restaurant, Pizza and Sports Bar on 24th Street near Treat will be out of town, so Singh will be holding down the fort through Christmas this year. Yes, they will be open. 

Singh is Sikh, the world’s fifth-largest religion, which hails from India’s Punjab region. But he still celebrates “the regular stuff” for Christmas: “Gifts and trees, party, drinking. Hangover after,” he shrugs. Where many practicing Sikh men might wear a turban to cover their hair, he dons an oversize beanie. 

There are an estimated 40,000 Sikhs living in the Bay Area. 

Each year, Singh’s friend throws a party. What began 15 years ago as a small gathering, Singh says, has now grown to accommodate 50 or 60 people annually, as more friends and family have joined in on the festivities. After Christmas, Singh and his wife and kids take a trip to Tahoe or somewhere else nearby with a group of family friends. But, this year, both the party and the trip are up in the air. 

Despite the uncertainty, Singh is sure about one thing: His plans for Jan. 1. 

“A lot of people go to the temple on the first” of January,” Singh said, to kick off the new year on a good note. He goes to the Sikh place of worship, or gurdwara, which is within walking distance of his home in the East Bay, atop a hill. 

It’s not a particularly religious time of year for him, Singh says, but this is one tradition he’s followed each new year since he was a child. His colleague, Surinder Dhillon, follows the same tradition with his own family. 

The Bay Area has about 10 gurdwaras; San Francisco’s closest one is located near the airport. Hindu temples, mosques, and gurdwaras around the world can all vary in look and style, but the gurdwara can usually be identified by a tall flagpole waving the Sikh flag, meant to be seen from far away. 

“You go up there, it’s very soothing, you can sit outside on the balcony … it’s very, very peaceful,” Dhillon said. “We all go through this grind, you know, somebody does it for five days a week, six days a week, or seven days a week. But you go to a place like that, and it definitely takes you out of this thing.” 

Gurdwaras are a unique place of worship. In addition to a prayer area, they also always have a langar hall, where food made by volunteers is served all day to attendees, Sikh or not. Volunteers help keep the place running: doing seva, or volunteering one’s service, is a key tenet of the Sikh faith. Attendees can take up any task that needs doing, from sweeping floors to washing dishes to serving food and drink to fellow congregants. 

Dhillon lives a bit farther from the temple, so he heads to the gurdwara with his family on New Year’s Eve instead. Like Singh, he also sets up a Christmas tree, because he sees it as a given when living in the United States. 

“We do it for the kids,” Dhillon said. “Pretty much everybody in their school talks about celebrating Christmas.” But, similar to Singh, Dhillon’s holiday this year looks different than usual: His father passed away, and Dhillon will be back home in Punjab during Christmas, scattering the ashes with his family. 

When he returns to the Bay Area later this month, he, too, will fall back on his constant: A visit to the gurdwara to bring in the new year. 

He plans to listen to the prayers, and take some time to decompress and meditate. Although it can’t quite compare to how Dhillon remembers those celebrations back in Punjab, when hundreds of thousands of people would gather and fireworks would light up the sky, he said, “It definitely helps your mental health.” 

Follow Us

REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *