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An Indian Expat Parent: Wholly Holi!

Published on: December 30, 2013

holipadmajaMy Facebook newsfeed is inundated with Holi wishes. And when I see all the colors, I feel nostalgic and jealous at the same time. Nostalgic thinking about my ‘drenched-in-color’ moments back home and jealous that my friends and family get to play Holi with so much mirth and I am not there to join the fun.

When I say “it’s Holi” here, the first thing people talk to me about is the carol “Silent Night, Holy Night.” I do speak very fast, so I don’t blame them.

But when I explain that I’m referring to Holi with an ‘i’ and not Holy with a ‘y’, the Indian festival of colors, I get a very encouraging “Aaahh!” People become very curious and ask me more about the story and the importance of the festival. I love the fact that there’s so much interest here in understanding other cultures.

In the place that I hail from, Hyderabad, in the South of India, Holi is celebrated with gusto. The whole city transforms into a giant rainbow. We’d have people literally paint the whole place in varied colors. Holi is even more popular in North India, where schools and offices declare holiday to celebrate the joyous festival.

We have so many festivals to pick from, so I guess my North Indian husband’s second favorite festival after Diwali, the festival of lights, is Holi. DH looked forward to this festival every year, and I could see he was also feeling very nostalgic this time.

DD has had 3 Holi celebrations thus far. The first one was when she was just born, so she had no clue about all the fuss around her. The second was when she saw the colors and didn’t register anything, and the third — she vaguely remembers. When I tell her it’s Holi today, she asks “Wholly what?” and starts off with her guessing game. I wait for her to catch a breath and try to explain about her last Holi experience. She appears to remember something. Does she? I have no idea.

Holi marks the onset of spring. And like most Hindu festivals, it is a celebration of good over evil. But when we as a little family celebrate at home, we don’t hold religious ceremonies (I hope my extremely religious parents aren’t reading this). To us, it’s a time to socialize, dance, sing and drench each other in colors — gulal (a shade of pink), being the most dominant of them all.

When DD heard about gulal, she really wanted to know everything about this wonderful ‘pink festival.’

I sat her down and narrated as animatedly as possible, the story of colors, fire and faith. I also showed her pictures from her last few Holis, trying to conjure up some memories. She was so impressed; she wanted to celebrate it right away.

Without warning she ran down to the basement and came back in a myriad of colors. So now, thanks to her, I have colorful floors, and her beautiful little dress is covered in yellow, red and green. No, we don’t keep the Holi colors in anticipation of her using them up creatively. Although, coming to think of it, I wish we did. She mixed up her colors and her Dad’s colors (DH is an artist) to decorate herself creatively. She even splashed some on me. I read the label on the bottle and thanks to little mercies, the colors were washable. So, I joined in the fun!

When DH saw the messy home, he was thrilled. I know, not the right reaction, but hey, “Holi Hai!” It’s Holi! We were out of colors, so he didn’t get to participate in our frolic. But, we did use turmeric in water for the yellow on his face. There are a lot of Indian communities celebrating the event, so maybe we’ll join them over the weekend and color him up real good.

I have a whole lot of cleaning to do, but at least it’s all part of the ‘scheduled’ spring cleaning, and the best part — DD learned a bit more about her culture and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

So then I guess, it’s not about where you celebrate the festival, it’s more about how you celebrate it — with laughter, love and washable mess. Happy Holi!

193Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh is a new expat from India and a rookie Superwoman. This is her first time managing her family without any help and boy, does she have newfound respect for the American woman. She is the mother of a high-energy preschooler who presents her with the challenges of preserving the culture of her homeland while embracing the culture of her new home in Seattle. From driving on the 'right' side of the road to understanding the craze behind Halloween candy, Padmaja's trying to make meaning out of the madness around her. For a peep into her expat life, check her blog .

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