One of our favorite memories of when we lived in India was celebrating Holi with kids. For the years we lived there, we never missed one and we knew we needed to carry on the tradition once we arrived to the US. Along with celebrating Diwali each year to not only to keep up connections to where my son was born, we have found celebrating these holidays to be a great way to share this snippet of life in India with our friends here.
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What is the Holi Festival?
Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday, originally known as “Holika”, which is celebrated widely in (mostly northern) India and Nepal. The traditions of Holi and the significance has morphed over the years, but essentially, it is based on the victory of good over evil. The colorful festival is celebrated with the throwing of colored powder, eating special foods and being with friends and family.
In Mumbai, the entire city practically shuts down for the main day of Holi. During our time in India, it felt as if it didn’t matter if you are rich or poor, Hindu, Christian or Muslim, Holi was the one holiday that brought everyone together in a colorful day of celebration.
Holi is celebrated for several days every year in March, specific dates are dependent on the moon cycle (on the full moon). In 2021, Holi is on March 29th. Festivities start with pujas (prayers and offerings) and bonfires in the streets the night before in preparation for the main event of throwing color. Adults and children alike take to the streets to throw gulal (colored powder) and spray dyed water (from water guns, buckets or water balloons) on everyone they can find.
In Mumbai, the festival is usually all over by the early afternoon, however private parties go well into the afternoon. These gatherings often include music, dancing and of course food.
How Locals in India Celebrate Holi with Kids
Holi is celebrated in many ways throughout India. While many of the celebrations in the north of India that tourists visit are geared much more towards adults, in Mumbai we found ourselves focused on how to celebrate Holi with kids in tow in a safe and festive way.
Residents of some buildings would hire water tanker trucks to spray water down from the roof simulating rain, while in other areas, neighborhood kids filled balloons with dyed water joyfully tossing them at people walking by. Some families hold small celebrations in their building, carefully touching color on each other’s cheeks. No matter how it is celebrated, everyone agrees it is a great way to mark the coming spring. Around the world Holi is often celebrated in large parks as a more organized event.
Additionally, when my son was smaller and parents (and kids) were more cautious about powder being thrown, we would set out a white sheet on the ground that the children could throw their colors on. Not quite the traditional way seen in India, but it was a great hands on opportunity for kids to experience Holi in a way that felt safe for their little bodies.
Water Play While Celebrating Holi with Kids
In India, Holi is celebrated with powder and water. Depending on where you live, water may not be feasible for a spring celebration. In some years, it is warm enough in Los Angeles to use water, but for the younger kids we often skipped it just to avoid wet kiddos running around the house!
But if you live in a warm climate and are ready for an all out Indian style Holi celebration, get your water guns/animals and water balloons ready! The best way to do this is to put some color into a bucket of water and let the kids refill their own water guns as needed. This way the water is already colored so they don’t need to throw the powders at the same time.
Clean Up Tip: If it’s warm enough, a great way to have fun and clean up at the same time is to set up a sprinkler and let the kids run through it before changing clothes or heading inside.
Safety Tip: When playing with water and color, some kids might feel more comfortable wearing goggles to keep it out of their eyes.
Create Beautiful Rangoli Designs for Holi with Kids
In India, no festival is complete without rangoli designs on the ground in or around your home. Typically this is done more around Diwali, but we found our neighbors in India did it for all the festivals and holidays, which we have also kept up. To make it easy for those of us without years of practice, you can buy rangoli stencils from local Indian shops or online. You can trace it with sidewalk chalk or use the colored powder to make the designs.
For preschoolers, it is best to tape the stencil on the ground and let them color it in with chalk/color. With these stencils you will have to repeat this process 3 more times until the entire symbol is complete. Another option is to draw large rangoli patterns and let the kids color them in with chalk or powder.
For a small party with slightly older children, you can let them create their own take home Rangoli. Sand art rangoli are great fun, but do require a bit of manual dexterity to get the colors on the areas you want!
Get Your White Clothes Ready
The first rule of thumb for celebrating Holi is to wear as much white as you can. The second rule is to wear old clothes or things you are OK possibly getting ruined. If you use the non-toxic colors without water, the color usually comes off pretty easily, but once water is added, the darker colors (blues, bright pink, green) can stain. Most of our Holi clothes have been used over and over for the last few years without any stains, however I have had a few undergarments not make it out unscathed, keep that in mind while getting dressed.
For toddlers and preschoolers, consider putting a large white sheet out on the ground (see photo above) and have the children throw the powder (and/or water) on the sheet rather than on one another. They love doing this and it keeps it from getting into their eyes. Another option to protect children’s eyes is to have them wear goggles or sunglasses.
Again if you have access to local Indian shops, visit during Holi and you will most often be able to purchase your own traditional Holi clothes. We bring back new sizes when we visit India every few years, but we have seen them locally as well.
Prepare &/or Purchase Indian Food to Celebrate
While much of Holi in India is not specifically focused on food like other holidays might be, while celebrating Holi with kids at home, we highly recommend learning how to make a few dishes or ordering take out from your local Indian restaurant.
In India the traditional drink at Holi is called bhang, which is made with a cannabis paste, so I don’t think you will want to serve that at your celebration! Instead, make another Indian favorite – mango lassi. It is easy to make with frozen mango, yogurt, a splash of milk and a pinch of cardamom powder (to taste).
Other easy, kid friendly dishes to consider for your Holi celebration include: Yellow Tadka Dal, Kichadi, Ladoo or Gulul Jamun.
Play Indian Music
In India, it’s not a proper Holi party without Indian music. As a family, we love to listen to Indian music on a regular basis, but for those of you who are new to it, you have a few options. We love Radio.Garden which offers the ability to listen to radio stations all over the world. My son regularly finds fun stations in India that would be perfect for any celebration.
Otherwise, check out Punjabi Bhangra or Bollywood Hits playlists on Spotify or Pandora. If you want a specific album, check out the movie soundtrack Rang de Basanti which was the soundtrack to our Holi parties for years in India. We prefer a collection of old bhangra, new bhangra and some of our favorite Bollywood hits. If you need some help putting together a playlist, send me a message and I will send you ours from Spotify.
That’s all you need for an awesome DIY Holi Party. Don’t forget to say “Happy Holi” as you (gently!) throw color on everyone! And remember this is an actual festival in India, so please do your due diligence to fully understand the festival in the best way you can to show appreciation, not appropriation.
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