Coming from India, a country steeped in traditions, culture, and celebrations, color and variety is a way of life for us. These elements are what brings the community together across the world. One of the most symbolic of these celebrations is Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors. This festival celebrates the arrival of spring and harvests to come, and the victory of good over evil. Although it is traditionally a Hindu festival, Holi is celebrated across the globe and is a great equalizer. Everyone is invited to participate, regardless of your religion and cultural background: It’s a celebration of love and inclusion.
When is Holi?
The Holi festival takes place on the last full moon day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month. It’s a two-day event: On the first day, families get together for a sacred bonfire. On the second day, the festival of colors is celebrated. In 2021, Holi starts on Sunday, March 28 and ends on March 29
How to celebrate Holi
On the day of Holi, families and friends gather in their backyards, terraces, neighborhoods, or driveways (like us) to play Holi with brightly colored powders to throw and smear on clothes and faces. The celebration brings in mesmerizing hues of blues, yellows, magentas, greens, violets, and more. Clouds of colors dancing in the wind carry the message of love, harmony, and happiness.
The dry powder colors we use for Holi are called gulal, and colors mixed with water are called rang. In our celebrations, we set up tables with bags of colors and water balloons, pools filled with colored water, and water blasters or pichkaris. We party with upbeat Bollywood music, local brews or thandai, tasty mithais, and fun-filled chatter—all are essential elements of Holi.
Since throwing color powder can be messy, Holi celebrations are hosted out of the home, in backyard or driveways or parks—not indoors. Kids especially enjoy playing with water balloons and jumping in colored-water kiddie pools. (And I have more tips for celebrating Holi with kids.) Water play is optional, but it is included in traditional Holi celebrations to help the color powder stay on longer.
The combination of water and color powder stains clothing, so dressing accordingly is important. Traditionally everyone wears white to Holi, so the colors stand out. White T-shirts or kurtas (dresses) with a colorful scarf, or dupatta, make the perfect outfits for some beautiful family pictures.
Like all celebrations since March 2020, Holi will also be subdued in these current times as families continue to avoid social gatherings, follow distancing norms, or celebrate amongst their trustworthy pandemic pod.
The meaning of Holi
For me, like most South Asian parents, preservation of culture is imperative. It is of utmost importance we pass on our cultural values to our children. And so, just like every year, we are celebrating the festival at home this year with simple DIYs and crafts, reading cultural books on Holi, planning classroom activities at school, and, of course, playing with color powder and enjoying some delicious homemade delicacies.
By celebrating Holi, we teach our kids about unity as a family. Holi is also the perfect outward expressions of infusing hope and optimism into our homes. Also, most of the traditional Holi colors hold some significance. Blue is for lord Krishna; green represents rebirth and new beginnings; red symbolizes love, marriage, and fertility; and yellow represents turmeric, which is an important ingredient across cultures for its medicinal properties.
Traditional foods for Holi
Delicious food is the essence of any festival. Recently, I learned to make Gujiyas, a Holi-some dessert in the dumpling style, with fillings of milk fudge and dry fruits. This was my first time making it, thanks to my mom. Thandai—a spiced milk drink—and Rice Kheer are also some of the classic Holi desserts and drinks that are must-haves on this occasion.
The Festival of Colors is a great cultural learning opportunity to teach your kids about the true meaning of Holi. We recommend celebrating it safely with your family.