For those that don't have a lot of Indian, S. Asian, Caribbean or S. American friends to tell you what's going on, you may be asking - why is everyone partying and throwing colorful powder on each other??
It's HOLI!! WooHoo!
Holi, known as the 'festival of colors' is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Phalguna (Feb-Mar). People run through the streets throwing awesome colors at each other amidst loud music and drums. It's super messy fun! But let's face it, it's an ANCIENT festival that even most of us don't know why we celebrate it.
So Why Do We Celebrate Holi?
So here's the history/mythology behind the holday:
Hiranyakashipu (my nephews' favorite name to say btw) was a "demon" king in ancient India. He wanted to take revenge for the death of his younger brother who was killed by the god Vishnu. So to gain power, the king prayed for years. The gods finally granted a boon for his efforts. But with this, Hiranyakashipu started considering himself to be God and asked his people to worship him as such, and not to worship Vishnu. He also had a young son named Prahalad, who was a great devotee of Vishnu. Prahalad had never obeyed his father's order and kept on worshiping Vishnu.
The King's heart was so blackened by power, he decided to kill his own son. He asked his sister 'Holika', whose super power was to be able to resist fire, to sit on a pyre of fire with his young son Prahalad in her lap. Their plan was to burn Prahalad alive. Their plan did not go so well because Prahalad the whole time was chanting Vishnu's name - and instead Holika got burnt to ashes. The defeat of Holika signifies the burning of all that is bad. After this, Vishnu killed Hiranyakashipu himself. But it is actually the death of Holika that is associated with Holi.
But how Holi get so colorful? It is said that in later years, Krishna used to celebrate holi with colors and turned it into a popular festival. He used to play holi with his friends at Vrindavan and Gokul. They used to play pranks all across the village, throwing colorful powder into people's faces and staining everything, thus turning the colorful pranks into a community event.
Holi is also a spring festival as a fun way to say goodbye to winter. In some parts of India the celebrations are also associated with spring harvest. And let's face it, Hindus don't need a lot of excuses to throw a party ;).
So there you have it! Happy Holi!