Back in India, Holi was a holiday observed by almost all states. The holiday would be declared at all educational institutes and offices. It's a two day spring festival also known as the festival of colors. The festival signifies the victory of good over bad, the arrival of spring with the fragrance of flowers in the air and aura of warmth and happiness.
Holi festival is the time of fun and frolic, eating and celebrating together the different colors of life. Sweets, flowers and color adds to the sacredness of this festival.. It brings in the sense of togetherness and connectivity.
I remember on the evening of the first day people would light their bonfires and offer raw coconut and corn to the fire. The second day is the festival of color celebrated by sprinkling colored water and applying colors to each other.
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We would start our preparations a week before the festival. We would buy different color powders and also a ‘Pichkari’. Pichkari is a plastic water gun which is used to spray color water on each other. We would also throw color and water balloons at each other. Buckets of balloons would be kept ready from the night before. We would have small pool of water where we would push each other. After the event, we would distribute sweets amongst all that were present. There would be a lot celebration with food, music and dance.
When I came to Summit in 2010, I met a few Indian families. To connect within our community, we would go to neighboring towns like New Providence, Short Hills-Millburn and Livingston to celebrate traditional festivals.
I recognized that there was a need of an event where I could bring not only Indian community together, but have others recognize our tradition and celebrate with us. I work for the Summit Area YMCA, an organization whose mission and cause is to strengthen the community through welcoming and inclusive practices, and providing programs and services that can educate and heighten understanding of various cultures.
I chose Holi for the Summit Area YMCA as an event to bring to the community, as it is a holiday that can be celebrated by all cultures and classes in both America and India. The main purpose was to celebrate diversity and inclusion of all the groups in the community. This would not only create an opportunity for the Indian Summit residents to celebrate their festival in their own community; it would also be a good example of cultural exchange.
I remember as kids, in our neighborhood, we always had very diverse and multi-cultural people around us. People from different faith and religion would join in the fun and revelries.
Holi was one of the main festivals when everyone came together to enjoy. No matter which religion , no matter what age, everyone came out of their houses to enjoy the festival.
So the planning process began. For our first Holi Color Festival in 2017, I needed to approach the City council with a proposal and application to have an event in the town. While I was confident that the event itself would be a success, I was also a little nervous to bring this festival to a community who had never experienced it before. I wasn't sure how it would be perceived.
I put in an application and attended a meeting wherein Council members and representatives from the Police, Fire, PWD, Parking Services, Health and Safety departments were present. I made a presentation about the festival and convinced them that we need to introduce new cultures and traditions in the community to make our town inclusive and diverse. To my relief, it was met with lot of excitement and encouragement from the council and other committee members. I had to get a few permits for the Summit Area YMCA and the vendors we were using. We partnered with DJ Karan of Intensive Sounds, Bombay Bistro for the ethnic food and Mimi Stella for the Masala Bhangra workshop.
2017 was the first Holi Color Festival ever to be held in Summit. I was told by many in attendance that they had never been to such an event before. I expected crowd of around 60-80 to show up but to my surprise, almost 250 people showed up. I had people come up to me and tell me that they came from as far as Jersey City, some from Morris Plains, Montclair and a few other neighboring towns. Everyone was thanking me for taking the initiative to bring such an event to Summit. For the event I tried to create the similar environment which I grew up with. I had arranged for organic colors; we had a DJ playing Indian Bollywood music. I had organized a Masala Bhangra workshop of 20 mins. We had food being catered from our local Indian restaurant. It was a beautiful day and a lot of people wore white to the festival which made the thrown color powder on participants even more outstanding in photographs. I felt so happy and so much satisfaction, and it felt like it was truly bringing the community together for a good cause.
This year too I was welcomed by the City Council and they were excited that we doing this event again. They had a great feedback about the event from last year and were happy we were doing it again. This year we are partnering with DJ D&S Event Solutions, Amiya restaurant and Mimi Stella again for the Masala Bhangra.
Safety is key to such large events, and since these were dry colors which were to be thrown on each other , I had to be careful while buying the colors. We had marked an area on the Summit Village Green and we had our local police and fire department helping us through the event to ensure the safety of everyone.
This is my second year of organizing this event in Summit, through the Summit Area YMCA. I hope that by doing so, the Summit Area YMCA can continue to be recognized as a community corner that includes and celebrates people of all backgrounds, and that people can feel safe and welcome at the Summit Area YMCA's facilities and programs. This festival does not see any boundaries. By celebrating an ethnic event, people from diverse segments of our community would be able to mingle with each other and form new bonds of friendship and camaraderie. I hope that by working with the Summit Area YMCA to bring this event to the community, we can create meaningful impact and positive, lasting change.