January in Punjab can be a cold, dark time. Days are short, tree leaves litter the ground, and the tender shoots of the spring’s wheat crop have yet to break through the soil. Lohri, celebrated this year on January 13th just after our Nonstop Bhangra, comes nestled amidst this darkness. Always celebrated in the month of the winter solstice, Lohri marks the end of darkness and celebrates the lengthening of the days. Although originally a Punjabi festival, Lohri is celebrated enthusiastically across Northern India in Sikh and Hindu communities. Children collect sweets from neighbors, friends and strangers exchange Lohri greetings, and the evening activities revolve around a large bonfire. Prasad made from til (sesame seeds), gajak (a sesame seed sweet), jaggery (sugar), peanuts, and popcorn are distributed to participants. A dinner of makki di roti (millet bread) and sarson da saag (mustard greens) are served as part of a traditional dinner.
And then the singing and dancing around the fire begins. Lohri is a celebration of light and life, an appreciation for the year’s abundance, and an opportunity to bless the coming year. Dance and song, bhangra and bollies, are central to the celebration. Traditional Lohri songs are sung and new songs are improvised on the spot, but love, family, and relationships are always emphasized. The first Lohri of a new bride or a new baby are particularly auspicious events for families to celebrate, recognizing the fertility and promise symbolized by these new beginnings. Lohri is a favorite festival of everyone young and old, male and female, to interrupt the depth of winter and join with others in joy.