This week sees the start of the festival of Lohri, a North Indian festival celebrated by many Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims of the region which marks the end of the cold months of winter and the start of the incoming longer, warmer days of spring. As well as celebrating the brighter and sunnier days to come, it also signifies the annual harvesting of seasonal crops such as sugarcane. In addition, it also centres around Dulla Bhatti, a folk hero who came from the Punjab region who is celebrated for rescuing people from slave merchants. Lohri is celebrated on the 13th of January every year and variations of this festival (called Makar Sankranti and Pongal) are celebrated in other regions of India around the same time, but they all represent the same theme.
People who celebrate Lohri usually light bonfires, to signify the start of a new year, and dance around them while singing traditional folk songs about new beginnings and Dulla Bhatti's heroism. As well as singing and dancing, there is the tradition of flying colourful hand-made kites and, of course, feasting with friends and family. Peanuts, popcorn, gajak (a sweet made out of sesame seeds), makki di roti (a buttered and spiced corn flatbread) and rice sweetened with jaggery (a refined sugar from sugarcane) are all eaten - each dish made with a crop that has been harvested for this very celebration. All of this is done with people dressed in bright, colourful clothes, handing out gifts and money to each other for well-wishing.
The children at Whitehall Junior have been learning about the festival this week and participating in different activities to understand more about it. We would like to wish you all a Happy Lohri, Makar Sankranti and Pongal, and invite you to share your experiences with us, if you so wish.