Holi, sometimes referred to as the Festival of Colors, is a Hindu celebration that marks the transition into Spring after the Winter months. Holi has been celebrated for millennia, and is also symbolic of the annual triumph of good over evil.
Holi’s exact timing varies a little, corresponding to the Hindi month Phalguna. For example, in 2023, Holi began on March 8th. But in 2024, the holiday will be on March 25th.
But, while colorful photos of the Festival of Colors have gained global popularity, has the holiday itself? Is Holi a holiday in the United States, and regardless of its official status, is there anywhere you can go to celebrate Holi in the USA?
Holi Traditions in India
Holi has been celebrated since at least the 4th century. Like many ancient holidays that are still actively celebrated today, there are different versions of the Holi story in India, though the themes of celebrating the triumph of good over evil and the return of Spring are common among them.
One common and popular version of the story is that an evil king once became so powerful that he forced his subjects to worship him as a god, instead of the gods of the Hindu pantheon. However, the king’s son was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and would not give p his belief.
The king responded by plotting with his sister Holika to kill his defiant son, planning to burn him on a pyre. The king’s sister was immune to fire, so she would convince her nephew to sit on a disguised pyre just before it would be lit. However, the son’s strong devotion to Lord Vishnu saved him from the flames, while Holika’s treachery meant that she died instead, despite her previous immunity.
Holika’s name is where Holi gets its name.
In India, pyres are lit across the country to signify the evil spirits burning as Holika burned in that ancient pyre. Then, the day of Holi celebrations, people crowd the streets and throw colored powder in red, green, blue, and yellow.
Each color has a special significance. Red Color Powder symbolizes love and fertility, green Color Powder symbolizes new growth and new beginnings, and yellow Color Powder the color of turmeric, is both a symbol of health and native pride since the spice/remedy is native to India. Lastly, blue Color Powder symbolizes the god Krishna.
Water is also thrown, from the streets and the rooftops, and, after all the colors, many people also gather for delicious meals and to exchange candies and sweets with loved ones, neighbors, and friends.
Holi Celebration in the USA
While Holi isn’t a traditional holiday in the United States the way it is in India and other parts of the Hindu world, it is growing in popularity.
Originally the only Holi celebrations in the United States were held by immigrant populations from South Asia. Immigrants would often gather together in population centers with a South Asian majority, or in parks and other community spaces nearby in order to celebrate.
The most recognizable part of Holi in the USA is likely the brilliantly colored powders, but other parts of the tradition are continued here as well, including meals and distributing traditional sweets.
New York in particular sees lively Holi celebrations, with parades, and the addition of dances, fashion shows, and music concerts. Of course, all the celebrations draw on traditional Indian music and dance, with big celebrations sometimes featuring the participation of popular Bollywood actors, both here in the USA, and in India.
While originally Holi celebrations were limited to South Asian Hindu communities wanting to preserve their cultural connections to home, today, Holi is growing in popularity and you’ll see people of all ethnicities and cultures joining in.
That said, Holi celebrations are still relatively uncommon, and many people in the United States have never even seen a festival of color. That’s changing, but Holi celebrations are still most common in immigrant population centers and major cities.
Holi celebration is also most common among Hindu populations, but people of other religions and cultures are starting to participate as well.
Is Holi a Holiday in the USA?
Holidays in the United States come in a couple of different varieties. There are holidays that are celebrated, but don’t have official recognition, holidays that do have official recognition, but don’t necessarily come with a day off or other national protections, and official federal holidays, which generally come with at least 1 day off of work per holiday and are widely celebrated.
Right now, Holi festivals are mostly in the first category, where people do gather and celebrate, and may even take time off to make sure they are free for the holiday, but there isn’t a lot of official recognition, and there aren’t any national protections.
So, compared with a national holiday like Easter or Christmas, there’s generally less recognition of Holi. If you need specific supplies for your celebration, like color powder or the ingredients for your favorite Holi meals or sweets, you might have to go to a specialty South Asian grocery store or order your supplies online.
That said, Hare Kishna temples in the USA often have an official celebration, some cities may set aside times and places for celebrating, and Holi is starting to be popular enough to show up on mass-produced calendars. So, who knows, in a few year Holi might get additional recognition in the United States.
In the meantime, there are probably smaller celebrations in the nearest major metropolitan area or Temple, all across the United States.
Experience Holi Celebrations in the USA
Much like in India, the USA has its own Holi customs and traditions, some of which are the same as they are in India, while others are more unique to the communities here.
Color powder, water balloons, and water guns are all common here, and most Holi celebrations use the standard 4 colors rather than deviating or adding additional hues.
In addition, Bollywood style dancing, live music concerts, and more are common.
Festival food and shared meals are common, though it’s just as common to go to a local Indian restaurant as it is to prepare the meal yourself. The atmosphere is often lighter, and there may be a larger number of celebrants there for the party, rather than the religious significance of the holiday.
That said, many celebrations include telling the origin stories of Holi, and discussion of the significance of the festival.
Pyre burning is rare here, in part because getting permits for large bonfires can be challenging in some parts of the USA, as is finding a suitable location for the fires.
Celebrating Holi in the US
Houston and New York both stand out as popular Holi destinations in the United States, but there are also celebrations in South El Monte, California, and in a temple in Moundsville West. Virginia.
Not all Holi celebrations in the United States are held at the same time as the one in India, so it’s important to look for a local calendar at the temple or event’s center. Websites are also a common way to find out about different Holi celebrations.
In addition to color powder and water, make sure you’re prepared with sweets, gujiyas, chocollates, and Holi gift hampers for the traditional exchanges. Many South Asian grocery stores in the United States carry Holi gift hampers specifically for this.
You should also wear comfortable clothes you don’t mind getting wet and colored in, and a sense of joy and celebration!
Expect a lot of music, dancing, tons of color, and a lot of delicious food if you’re planning to attend Holi celebrations in the USA.
Holi celebrations in the USA might not have the long history the festival does in India, but it is growing in popularity, both among Hindu residents and citizens, and among the non-Hindu population. The celebration may look a little different, but you can still expect a lot of joy, a fun time, and a chance to renew your connection with your Indian roots, or a new cultural appreciation for the country and its people.
Holi in the USA is fun, exciting, and getting more and more common. So don’t be afraid to celebrate with your local community that’s open to visitors and be sure to stock up on color powder! Our website features a range of options that enable you to purchase the right Holi powder in the comfort of your home. We also offer free shipping for orders over $50. Added to that, buyers who purchase color powder in bulk are eligible for even more discounts.
If you’re unsure about how much color powder to buy or how to plan a Holi celebration, our talented customer support team will be more than happy to help you out. You can get in touch with us via email at [email protected] or call us at 833-265-6771. We also have a smart calculator to help you estimate the quantity of color powder you need to make your event or activity a success.