Ah Christmas, it is the one time of the year when the whole family gets together without any squabbles. Where we all eat, drink and be merry to our heart's content. Usually sweltering in the heat with fans blasting hot air in our faces as we are gathered around the dining table. Popping bon bon's and laughing at the same silly jokes as we enjoy our Christmas Lunch. Typically by the end of the day you will need to unzip your jeans from all the delectable seasonal dishes. But alas again this year I am in Punjab and miss my favourite celebration of the year. There is not one Christmas Tree, Ornate Bauble, Sparkling Tinsel or Jolly Santa decoration to be seen in Punjab. Sure, people have heard of Christmas but here Sikhism is the traditional religion of Punjabi People.
So what do the Sikh's celebrate? Quite a lot actually, so much so that I am surprised there is not a celebration in replace of Christmas. Most of their celebrations revolve around seasons and family. Here are the main celebrations that I have been lucky enough to join in on festivities.
This is a Punjabi Festival that is held at the end of Winter in celebration of the passing of Winter Solstice, which falls around mid January. It is a way to commemorate bountiful harvests and fertile lands for Spring. Lohri Festival is usually associated with the harvesting of the Winter Crops and as such is also considered to be a harvest festival. Harvested crops such as sugarcane, nuts and radishes are prepared into traditional dishes and eaten at Lohri. During the day of Lohri children will go door to door singing folk songs and in turn will receive traditional sweets and occasionally money. It is unfavourable to let the children leave empty handed. Where family's are welcoming newly weds or new borns you should hand over additional treats. The sweets collected by the children are known as Lohri and can consist of gachak (peanut brittle sweet), jaggery (non-centrifugal sugar cane), crystallised sugar, peanuts or popcorn. Later in the evening a bonfire is lit and people gather together to eat traditional sweets whilst throwing sesame seeds and peanuts into the bonfire. Traditional songs are sung for Lohri whilst dancing to the beat of the dhol. It is a fun and joyous occasion.
The Basant Festival is held late January in celebration of the welcoming of Spring. Fully blossomed mustard fields glow all over rural Punjab. With the change of weather bringing a cool breeze kite flying is a popular entertainment amongst children. Clear blue skies will be speckled with brightly coloured kites dancing in the wind. Children will try to intertwine other kites in an attempt to knock them out the sky as playful competition. As such there will be kites dangling from powerlines, tree tops, roof tops and balconies all throughout the neighbourhood. Basant Festival is another joyous occasion for the Punjabi People.
This is a Hindu Festival that is celebrated across India including Punjab. Essentially translated it means the festival of colours. It is celebrated at the end of Winter on the last full moon of the lunar month. This typically falls around late February to March. It is an Ancient Religious Hindu Festival that signifies the victory of good over evil and to welcome Spring, commemorating bountiful harvests and fertile lands. The colourful festival is a way to forgive and forget, mend broken relationships and overall a day of fun and enjoyment. People will hug one another and bid a Happy Holi. The evening before is known as Holika Dahan where people light bonfires and perform religious rituals and prayers. The following day is known as Rangwali Holi which is when the fun begins and is a free for all carnival of colours. People chase each other with colourful chalk powder or coloured water in a bid to drench each other in colour. Even those not participating are fair game so be sure to always wear old clothing as the colours can stain.
The Baisakhi Festival is one of the major fesitval's in the Sikh community and is therefore celebrated with much enthusiasm. It marks the beginning of the Punjabi New Year and is celebrated mid April as commemoration to the harvesting of the Winter Crop. It is known as the harvest or farmers festival to the Punjabi People. Farmers pay their respect to god for the bountiful harvest and for the prosperity of future crops. The Baisakhi Festival also coincides with the establishment of the Khalsa which is the army of all initiated Sikh's. Sikh's across the world join in on the celebrations through prayer and worship. Many Punjabi People will make the travel to The Golden Temple where the Khalsa was initiated in 1699.
Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated in Autumn throughout India including Punjab. It signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The celebration takes place over 5 days and includes millions of lights shining throughout communities where it is rejoiced.