Makar Sankranti is among the most auspicious occasions for Hindus and is celebrated in almost all parts of India. It is a harvest festival and is celebrated in many cultural forms with immense devotion, fervor and cheerfulness. The festival is celebrated on 14th January and is possibly the only Indian festival whose date always falls on the same day each year with just a few exceptions.
Observances: Kite flying
Type of holiday: Traditional, Seasonal
Featured in religions: Hinduism
Also called: Sankaranthi
Date: day when the Sun begins its movement away from the Tropic of Capricorn (mid-January), 14 January, 15 January
Main Attraction : The various festivities of the different states are the main attractions. Also, the day of
Makar Sankranti is considered to be auspicious and meritorious.
Makar Sankranti is considered as one of the most auspicious days for Hindus. The festival is celebrated differently in different parts of India. Thousands of people take a dip in the river Ganga and pray to the Sun God. The southern parts of India also celebrated the festival as Pongal and in Punjab as Maghi. In Gujarat, celebrations are huge as people offer colorful oblations to the Sun in the form of beautiful kites. It stands as a metaphor for reaching to their beloved God.
In rural and coastal areas, cock fights are held as an important event of the festival. As the festival is celebrated in winters, food prepared in this festival is made to keep the body warm and give energy. Laddu of Til made with Jaggery is the festivals speciality. The festival of Makara Sankranti also honours and pays respect to Saraswati - Goddess of Knowledge. Makara Sankranti represents a period of illumination, peace, affluence and happiness.
Many Melas or fairs are also held on Makar Sankranti. The most famous among them is the Kumbh Mela which is held every 12 years at one of four holy locations, namely Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nashik. The Magh Mela (or mini-Kumbh Mela) held annually at Prayag, the Gangasagar Mela (held at the head of the Ganges River), Tusu Mela in parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal, Makar Mela in Orissa, etc are some of the other fairs celebrated on this day.
Some Intresting Facts about Makar Sankranti
- Why is it called Makar Sankranti?
On Makar Sankranti, the sun enters the sun-sign of Capricorn or Makara (the Indian rashi). Therefore the 'Makar' in the name. The word 'Sankranti' signifies the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Thus, the name of the festival literally means the movement of the sun into Capricorn.
- Day and night are equally long.
As Makar Sankranti is one of the oldest solstice festivals and falls on the equinox, day and night on this day are believed to be equally long. Post the festival, it is officially the beginning of spring or the onset of Indian summer and the days become longer, and nights shorter.
- Same festival, a million different names.
Though extremely popular as Makar Sankranti, the festival is predominantly a harvest festival and is celebrated throughout India, from north to south and east to west. While Makar Sankranti is most popular in West India, down south, the festival is known as Pongal and in the north, it is celebrated as Lohri. Uttarayan, Maghi, Khichdi are some other names of the same festival.
- Why do we consume til-gul?
Makar Sankranti is the festival of til-gul where sesame and jaggery laddoos or chikkis are distributed among all. They are generally accompanied by the saying, "Til-gul ghya ani gud gud bola", which translates to 'eat these sesame seeds and jaggery and speak sweet words'. The festival is one of bonding where every member of society is asked to bury the hatchet with enemies and foes and live in peace. Also, it is a superstition that during the festival, the Sun God forgets his anger on his son Shani and visits him. Thus, by distributing sweets, everyone is asked to spread joy around. Also, since the festival falls in winter, eating of sesame and jaggery is considered beneficial to health as they are warm foods. Thus, it is specifically this sweet that's distributed as it signifies bonding and good health.
- Why do we fly kites on Makar Sankranti?
There is a very interesting reason behind the kite-flying. Kite-flying in olden days was generally done in the early hours of the morning, when the sun's rays were bright but not too harsh. Also, during kite-flying, the human body was exposed to the sun for long hours. The early morning sun is considered beneficial for the skin and body. Since winter is also the time of a lot of infections and sickness, by basking in the sun, Hindus believed that the bad bacteria on their bodies would be cleared to a certain extent. Creating a fun way of sun basking where no one would even realise they were reaping benefits was through kite flying. Cool, right?
Makar Sankranti generally marks the beginning of the Kumbh Mela in Uttar Pradesh while in South India, in Kerala, one of the most austere and difficult pilgrimages of Shabrimala ends on this auspicious day. Other parts of the country too, celebrate by taking a dip in the holy rivers flowing through states to cleanse themselves of sins. It is also believed that if you die during Makar Sankranti, you are not reborn but go directly to heaven.
The 12 Days of Christmas Are now most famous as a song about someone receiving lots of presents from their 'True Love'. However, to get to the song there had to be the days to start with! The 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and last until the evening of the 5th January - also known as Twelfth Night. The 12 Days have been celebrated in Europe since before the middle ages and were a time of celebration.The 12 Days each traditionally celebrate a feast day for a saint and/or have different celebrations:
Day 1 (25th December):Christmas Day - celebrating The Birth of Jesus
Day 2 (26th December also known as Boxing Day): St Stephen’s Day. He was the first Christian martyr (someone who dies for their faith). It's also the day when the Christmas Carol 'Good King Wenceslas' takes place.
Day 3 (27th December): St John the Apostle (One of Jesus's Disciples and friends)
Day 4 (28th December): The Feast of the Holy Innocents - when people remember
the baby boys which King Herod killed when he was trying to find and kill the Baby Jesus.
Day 5 (29th December): St Thomas Becket. He was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century and was murdered on 29th December 1170 for challenging the King’s authority over Church.
Day 6 (30th December): St Egwin of Worcester.
Day 7 (31st December): New Years Eve (known as Hogmanay in Scotland). Pope Sylvester I is traditionally celebrated on this day. He was one of the earliest popes (in the 4th Century). In many central and eastern European countries (including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Slovenia) New Years Eve is still sometimes called 'Silvester'. In the UK, New Years Eve was a traditional day for ‘games’ and sporting competitions. Archery was a very popular sport and during the middle ages it was the law that it had to be practised by all men between ages 17-60 on Sunday after Church! This was so the King had lots of very good archers ready in case he need to go to war!
Day 8 (1st January): 1st January - Mary, The Mother of Jesus
Day 9 (2nd January): St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, two important 4th century Christians.
Day 10 (3rd January): Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This remembers when Jesus was officially 'named' in the Jewish Temple. It's celebrated by different churches on a wide number of different dates!
Day 11 (4th January): St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the past it also celebrated the feast of Saint Simon Stylites (who lives on a small platform on the top of a pillar for 37 years!).
Day 12 (5th January also known as Epiphany Eve): St. John Neumann who was the first Bishop in American. He lived in the 19th century.
Twelfth Night is also the name of a famous play written by William Shakespeare. It's thought it was written in 1601/1602 and was first performed at Candlemas in 1602, although it wasn't published until 1623.
Twelfth Night was a big time of celebration with people holding large parties. During these parties, often the roles in society were reversed with the servants being served by the rich people. This dated back to medieval and Tudor times when Twelfth Night marked the end of 'winter' which had started on 31st October with All Hallows Eve (Halloween).
At the start of Twelfth Night the Twelfth Night cake was eaten. This was a rich cake made with eggs and butter, fruit, nuts and spices. The modern Italian Panettone is the cake we currently have that's most like the old Twelfth Night cake.
The first monday after Christmas feast has finished was known as ‘Plough Monday’ as this was when farming work would all begin again.
In many parts of the UK, people also went Wassailing on Twelfth Night.
Twelfth Night is also known as Epiphany Eve. In many countries it's traditional to put the figures of the Wise Men/Three Kings into the Nativity Scene on Epiphany Eve ready to celebrate Epiphany on the 6th January.
It's also traditional to take your Christmas decorations down following Twelfth Night.
Christmas Eve has many of its own customs and traditions. The most widely practiced one that still exists today is going to a Midnight Mass Church Service. In many countries, especially Catholic ones such as Spain, Mexico, Poland and Italy, this is the most important Church service of the Christmas season. People might fast during Christmas Eve (don't eat any meat or fish usually) and then the main Christmas meal is often eaten after the Midnight Mass Service in these countries. In some other countries, such as Belgium, Finland, Lithuania and Denmark the meal is eaten in the evening and you might go to a Midnight Service afterwards!
The Midnight Mass Communion Service was a very special one as it was the only one that was allowed to start after sunset and before sunrise of the next day, so it was held at Midnight!
Christmas Eve is also the day when people in some countries, like Germany, Sweden and Portugal exchange their presents. I think Santa must have those countries on his extra early list! Christmas Eve is also Santa's busiest day of the year when he has to travel over 220 million to get to every house on earth! You can see where Santa's got to go on.
In many European countries including Germany, Serbia and Slovakia, Christmas Eve is the day when the Christmas tree is brought into the house and decorated.
It was also traditional to bring the Yule Log into the house and light it on Christmas Eve. It was lit using a piece of the previous years log and then would burnt non-stop until Twelfth Night (night of the 5th January/Day of 6th January). Tradition also said that any greenery such as Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe should only be taken into the house on Christmas Eve.
It's also the time that the wonderful book 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens is set and that going out Carol singing was and still is very popular. In the past, if you weren't carol singing, in parts of the UK, you might go out wassailing or mumming.
There were lots of superstitions in the UK that said girls could find out the initials, or even have visions, of the person they would marry on Christmas Eve! This was often done by cooking a special cake called a 'dumb cake'. You were supposed to make the cake in silence and prick your initials into the top. When you went to bed, you left the cake by the fire hearth and your true love was supposed to coming in at midnight and prick his initials next to yours!
Other Christmas Eve superstitions included that farm and wild animals would kneel at midnight in honor of Jesus being born or that they could even talk!