Lohri is a popular winter time Punjabi folk festival, celebrated primarily by Sikhs and Hindus from the Punjab in India. There are many legends about the Lohri festivals, though popular belief has it that Lohri is celebrated to mark the end of peak winter.
This festival is traditionally associated with the harvest of the rabi crops. The traditional time to harvest sugarcane crops is January, therefore, Lohri is seen by some as a harvest festival. Punjabi farmers see the day after Lohri (Maghi) as their financial New Year.
In its origins, Lohri is an ancient mid winter Hindu festival, in regions near the Himalayan mountains where winter is colder than the rest of the subcontinent. Hindus traditional lit bonfires in their yards after the weeks of the rabi season cropping work, socialised around the fire, sang and danced together as they marked the end of winter and the onset of longer days.
Punjabis celebrate Lohri on the last day of the month during which winter solstice takes place. Lohri commemorates the passing of the winter solstice. During the day, children go from door to door singing folk songs. They are given sweets and savories – occasionally, money. Turning them back empty-handed is regarded inauspicious.
The collections gathered by the children are known as Lohri. Lohri is also distributed at night during the festival. Till, peanuts, popcorn and other food items are also thrown into the fire. For some, throwing food into the fire represents the burning of the old year and start the next year.
The bonfire is lit at sunset in the main village square. People toss sesame seeds, gur, sugar-candy and rewaries on the bonfire, sit around it, sing and dance till the fire dies out. Some people perform a prayer and go around the fire. This is to show respect to the natural element of fire, a tradition common in winter solstice celebrations. It is traditional to offer guests til, gachchak, gur, moongphali (peanuts) and phuliya or popcorn.
Singing and dancing form an intrinsic part of the celebrations. People wear their brightest clothes and come to dance the bhangra. Punjabi songs are sung, and everybody rejoices.
Sarson da saag (spinach, mustard leaves, finely chopped broccoli, or other greens with spices) and makki di roti (unleavened corn bread) is usually served as the main course at a Lohri dinner. Lohri is a great occasion that holds great importance for farmers. However, people residing in urban areas also celebrate Lohri, as this festival provides the opportunity to interact with family and friends.