How to Celebrate Holi, the Festival of Colors, From India to the U.S.
Partaking in the annual Holi Festival is the most fun I had as a kid. Holi is a Hindu festival of colors, celebrated once a year in March. And growing up in a Hindu household, I absolutely loved the spectacle that came along with celebrating Holi.
One of the most remarkable things about the Indian color festival is how enthusiastic and care-free it is. It is purely a day of fun. I didn’t love being dragged to temple as a child, but going to temple for Holi was an exception. Because running around throwing colors was something I could always get on board with.
Attending a Holi festival feels like so much more than just throwing colors and taking a few pictures. It gets you out of the monotony of March and interacting with friends or family you might not normally have fun with. The Holi celebrations I attended were always extremely inclusive — my Hindu relatives, young and old, were excited to share the day with anyone interested in celebrating.
If you’re wondering, “What is Holi?” you might find there isn’t one straight answer to that question. Holi is a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s a celebration of rebirth and new beginnings, and a time to let the bad and the negative melt away.
Whether you’re interested in attending Holi 2019 in the U.S., or you’ll actually be in India for Holi this year and want to gain a broader understanding of the holiday, we’ve got you covered. Here’s your quick cheat sheet on Holi and the festival of colors, from what the colors symbolize, to the reason Hindus celebrate Holi, to where to partake in the color party.
What is Holi?
Holi is a Hindu festival that takes place every spring. It’s all about new beginnings — Holi welcomes the spring season and celebrates the end of winter. The Holi festival always falls on Purnima, or the day of the full moon. It’s a two-day holiday; the day of the March full moon is Holika Dahan. That’s when a bonfire is lit for a puja (or prayer). The bonfire is cleansing and meant to burn away all the bad and evil. The next day, directly after the full moon, is all about the festival of colors.
Why is Holi called the festival of colors?
Holi is called the festival of colors because the main event is a color-filled celebration. While the bonfire on the night before, Holika Dahan, has a religious element, the day of the color fest typically doesn’t involve a religious ceremony. It’s purely about having fun within your community by taking to the streets or attending private celebrations to throw colors at each other. The colors are each said to symbolize something different. Blue is for Krishna, a Hindu god portrayed with blue skin. Green is symbolic of rebirth and new beginnings. Red is the color of marriage and can symbolize matrimony or fertility. And yellow, the color of turmeric, is often used on auspicious occasions.
What is its history of Holi?
Holi is said to have been celebrated for centuries, but over time, the purpose of the festival has evolved. In its infancy, the Holi festival was supposedly a ceremony for married women to bestow well-being and prosperity on their new family and married life.
Now, one of the primary themes of Holi is the triumph of good over evil. This takes root from the story of Hiranyakashipu, a king who believed he was immortal and should be worshipped as such. His son, Prahlad, was a devoted worshipper of Vishnu, a Hindu deity, and it displeased Hiranyakashipu that his own son would worship Vishnu over him. As the story goes, Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of a half-lion, half-man and killed Hiranyakashipu, and thus, good triumphed over evil.
The other story often associated with Holi is the story of Krishna and Radha. Krishna is always depicted with blue skin — his skin turned blue as a baby when he drank poisonous milk from a demon, according to Hindu legend. Krishna fell in love with Radha, but was worried that Radha would not feel the same way because of his skin. Radha let Krishna apply color to her skin, and they became a couple. And so on Holi, we apply color to each other’s skin.
When is Holi 2019?
Holi 2019 begins on Wednesday, March 20 and ends on Thursday, March 21. Holika Dahan is on the 20th, when the customary puja and bonfire is held. And then the festival of colors will come out in full force on the 21st. The second day of Holi (March 21 this year) is called Rangwali Holi. That’s the day filled with color throwing, water gun spraying, and dancing in the streets.
Where is Holi Celebrated?
The Indian color festival is most popular in India, but Holi celebrations also happen around the world. Throughout India, Holi is celebrated differently depending on the region. In West Bengal, singing and dancing is a key part of the celebrations — and they also celebrate Holi a day early in West Bengal. In Rajasthan, Holi is extremely inclusive of foreign visitors, likely because Rajasthan is known for tourist hotspots like Jaipur and Pushkar. The festival is also wildly popular in Mathura and Vrindavan, because it’s where Lord Krishna supposedly grew up. (Mathura and Vrindavan is about four hours from Delhi.)
What are the best U.S. Holi celebrations?
Holi celebrations abound in the U.S., so if you’re interested in joining the color-filled festivities, there’s not much stopping you. Spanish Fork, Utah hosts a Holi celebration of 70,000 people — it’s based at the local Krishna temple, and there are similar events in the surrounding area. The Spanish Fork Holi 2019 celebration is on March 30 and March 31. There are also huge Holi parties across Houston; in fact, Houston Holi boasts the “biggest festival of colors in the U.S.” Their festival includes dancing, Indian street food vendors, concerts, and colors.
On the east coast, New Jersey is a Holi hotspot because of their significant Indian population. I’ve visited several New Jersey relatives’ Holi parties over the years, and the community really comes together for this celebration. (You can find tickets for Holi 2019 celebrations all over New Jersey here.) Boston also celebrates Holi annually, with the biggest Holi party in New England. This year, it’s happening on April 6 in Holbrook, MA. And finally, Holi in the City happens annually in New York City at Stage48 — the color party is hosted for three consecutive weekends this year on March 16, 23, and 30.