Families can spring forth at Long Island Children’s Museum this weekend. A bold explosion of color marks the beginning of the season as the museum celebrates the ancient Hindu festival of Holi, on Sunday, March 24.
A fusion of dance, tasty treats, arts and crafts and the traditional throwing of the colors, “Celebrate Holi” creates connections across cultures. It gives kids — and their parents — a chance to shake off the winter blues in spectacular fashion.
“Holi is a street festival in India that announces the arrival of spring,” says the museum’s Director of Education and Visitor Experience Aimee Terzulli. “It’s about forgiving and forgetting and moving on to the new season with laughter and joy.”
The museum is celebrating Holi for the first time, giving families unfamiliar with Holi to learn about the exuberant holiday alongside those who celebrate annually. The many activities take in all aspects of the holiday.’s customs.
Visitors will learn why it is known as the “Festival of Colors” as they take part in the tossing of colored powders, traditionally made from flowers (known as gulal), on each other. The colors of the powder have special significance — blue refers to vitality, red for love and happiness, green for harmony and orange for optimism.
“Nowadays we do it with a very fine colored powder that’s totally safe,” says Terzulli. “This activity creates a human mosaic, representing all the colors seen in spring. We encourage visitors to wear white so the colors really show up.”
A separate room is set up for this activity. “But if it’s a beautiful day, we might decide to throw the chalk outside,” Terzulli says.
Dance is a big part of the Holi celebration and it’s prominently showcased during the event. Indian dancer, Abha Roy will lead a troupe of Srijan Dance Center dancers as they perform and teach classical and folk dances based on mythological stories from different eras and geographic regions of India.
“Dancing is storytelling and audiences will learn the story of Prahlāda, the young hero of Holi myths and his triumph of good over evil,” she says. “Usually the Holi dancing is done outside as part of the street festival. But we’ll do it in the museum lobby so everyone feels a part of things.”
Kids can make masks of Prahlāda and other characters from the stories as well as design Holi bracelets similar to what women wear in India. These colorful bands symbolize good fortune, health and energy.
The community aspect of the festival, which dates back centuries, makes it a perfect fit for the museum, according to Terzulli. “Not many places have the town square anymore and the museum serves that purpose as a beacon where people can come together and learn together,” she says. “Holi is a bright, colorful, family holiday that provides a vibrant learning experience.”
Adds Roy: “The Indian community is definitely growing on Long Island. So this is a way for everyone to learn about the culture hands-on.”
That includes sampling some sweet and savory Indian treats. In fact, Roy recently took museum staff on a shopping adventure in Hicksville to some of the local Indian markets looking for culinary inspiration. They’ve devised a menu with a selection of Indian pastries including Gur para (a fried sweet made from flour and fennel seeds and coated in a sugar syrup) and Namak para (a crunchy savory snack flavored with Indian spices).
A traditional drink is also on the menu. “Kanji juice is made from carrots and mustard seeds,” says Roy, “It has to ferment for two weeks before it’s ready to be served, so we needed to get it going in advance. ”
The Holi festival will embrace other symbols of Indian culture as well.
When visitors arrive, they’ll be greeted by an eight-foot papier-mache elephant in the lobby. Elephants, one of the most revered animals in Indian culture, “are known for their wisdom,” explains Roy. Everyone can have some fun with the elephant by dressing it up with bright paint and other colorful adornments. An exhibit of Holi clothing will also be set up with photos of Holi festivals and costumes from different parts of India, including Bengal, Kashmir and Punjab.
“According to Indian text, the goal of existence is happiness,” says Roy, “and the Festival of Colors is about sharing happiness with each other.”
When: Sunday, March 24, 12-5 p.m. $14 adults and children, $13 seniors, free to museum members and children under 1 year old. View the LICM events calendar at www.licm.org for additional information or call (516) 224-5800.
Where: Long Island Children’s Museum, Museum Row, Garden City.