Holi is spread out over two days (it used to be five, and in some places it is longer). The entire holiday is associated with a loosening of social restrictions normally associated with caste, sex, status and age. Holi is also characterized by the loosening of social norms governing polite behavior and the resulting general atmosphere of licentious merrymaking and ribald language and behavior. A common saying heard during "Holi is bura na mano, Holi hai" ("don't feel offended, it's Holi").
Holi usually begins with the lighting of bonfires which have been built by everyone. People light their household fires, and then the community fire is kindled by a brahim priest. The ripening of the first wheat and barley crop is celebrated by being offered to the fire, and the roasted barley is eaten. The ashes of the fires are marked on the forehead to bring good luck in the year ahead.
After the bonfires comes the throwing of colour, which gives the holiday its common name as the 'Festival of Colours'. People throw coloured water and powders over friends or anyone who passes by. It is a happy celebration, everybody dances and has great fun. Processions of floats carrying statues of the gods line the streets. This ritual is said to be based on the story of Krishna and Radha as well as on Krishna's splashing of the maids with water, but mostly it celebrates spring with its bright colours.
Some fun activity ideas to celebrate Holi are:
- Adding food colouring to water for colourful water play
- Painting paper with water and sprinkling on powder paints
- Putting paint in squeezy bottles and squirt on paper (probably best done in the garden!)
- Finger painting