Although St. Patrick’s Day gets all the buzz, there are three festivals that are worth adding to your calendar this spring: Holi, Purim and St. Joseph Day. The three festivals are all wonderful celebrations connoting the history and traditions of Indian, Nepalese, Jewish and Italians. Here is a brief primer on each:
What: The Holi festival, celebrated by Indians and Nepalese, welcomes spring with vibrant color, music and traditional food.
When: Although, little known in the U.S., but gaining in popularity, the Indian and Nepalese holiday of Holi takes place on March 17.
The History: The celebration is based on a religious story of good defeating evil. As legend has it, a king sends a witch named Holika, to kill his son. After trying to burn him in a pyre, Holika instead loses her immunity to fire and dies instead of the king's son.
The Colors: Shocking pink, peacock blues, blazing orange and lush purples are the vibrant colors used to celebrate Holi. In some celebrations powders of these colors are mixed with water and squirted through water pistols or thrown dry.
The Food and drink:
Gujiyas are pastries filled with a delicate mixture of shredded coconut, dates, sultanas and nuts.
Kachoris (pictured here) are a round, puffed pastry filled with lentils and fragrant spices.
Sweet rice is another favorite.
Lassi, a soft yogurt drink used to toast the freedom of spring, can be drunk as is or, as is often the case, liberally laced with intoxicants.
The Himalayan Restaurant in Niles (8265 W Golf Rd) celebrates Holi with a tie-dying party in the colors that capture the spirit of the holiday for children and families. The restaurant will provide t-shirts to dye while supplies last, or guests can bring in their own. There will be a lunch buffet for $10.95 per person or order from their full menu of authentic Indian and Nepalese cuisine. Holi Tie-Dye and Lunch Buffet, Sunday, March 16, noon to 3 p.m.
What: Purim is a Jewish festival commemorating the survival of the Jewish people in Ancient Persia with charity, gift giving, costumed children, stories, songs and a large Purim feast.
When: Purim is celebrated Saturday evening, March 15 through Sunday night, March 16.
The History: During the 4th century BCE in the Persian empire there was a plot by anti-Semitic prime minister Haman to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews in a single day. Haman was hanged, and a new prime minister was appointed who granted the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
The Food and drink: Purim is celebrated with a special festive meal that has symbolic meanings that relate to the story of Purim. Wine is often served along with other traditional Jewish foods including:
Challah in the form of a long, braided rope in memory of the rope used to hang Haman.
The triangular-shaped hamantashen (pictured here) in memory of Haman's three-cornered hat.
Local Celebrations: Temples throughout the area hold special Purim events. One popular event is the 7th Annual Wicker Purim Extravaganza.
St. Joseph Day
What: St. Joseph's Day is celebrated by Italians to commemorate the feast day of St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary. It dates back to the Middle Ages.
When: St. Joseph Day is celebrated annually on March 19.
The History: In the Middle Ages through St. Joseph's intercessions with the Lord, Sicilians were saved from famine.
The Colors: Just as St. Patrick's Day revelers wear green, on St. Joseph's Day, Italians and others who want to celebrate, traditionally, wear red.
The Food and drink: In Italy, especially southern Italy and Sicily, where St. Joseph is as important as St. Patrick is in Ireland, St. Joseph Day is celebrated with a large Lenten feast often served to the entire village. The tradition is celebrated in a similar way in America where Italian American communities and families create a big altar ("la tavola di San Giuse" or "St. Joseph's Table", pictured here) laden with food contributed by everyone dedicated to the saint. Popular foods include:
- Zeppole, which are "Italian doughnuts" dusted with sugar, cinnamon and honey or filled with yellow cream and covered with whipped cream.
- Pignolatta or Struffoli which are a pyramid of little fried pastry balls covered in honey, nuts and chocolate bits symbolic of a pine cone.
- Cannoli, a Sicilian pastry shaped like a "little tube" and filled with a sweet, creamy mixture often containing ricotta cheese.
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