Lohri marks the culmination of winter, and is celebrated on the 13th day of January in the month of Paush or Magh, a day before Makar Sankranti. For Punjabis, this is more than just a festival, it is also an example of a way of life. Lohri celebrates fertility and the spark of life. People gather round the bonfires, throw sweets, puffed rice and popcorn into the flames, sing popular songs and exchange greetings.
In the North Makar Sankranti is called Lohri. Lohri is the time after which the biting cold of the winters begins to taper off.
On this day children go from door to door to collect funds for community bonfires which are lit up in the evening. Lohri is more of a community festival as people gather around the bonfires and offer sweets, crisp rice and popcorn to the flames.
An extremely auspicious day, Lohri marks the sun's entry in to the 'Makar Rashi' (northern hemisphere). The period, beginning from 14 January lasting till 14 July, is known as Uttarayan. It is also the last day of the month of Maargazhi, the ninth month of the lunar calendar. The Bhagawad Gita deems it an extremely sacred and auspicious time, when Lord Krishna manifests himself most tangibly. And so, across India, people celebrate the month and the prodigious harvest it brings - Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh and the Sankranti in Karnataka, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The focus of Lohri is on the bonfire. The traditional dinner with makki ki roti and sarson ka saag is quintessential. The prasad comprises of five main things: til, gazak, gur, moongphali, phuliya and popcorn. There is puja, involving parikrama around the fire and distribution of prasad. This symbolises a prayer to Agni, the spark of life, for abundant crops and prosperity.
It is also the one day when the womenfolk and children get attention. The first Lohri of a bride is extremely important. The first Lohri of a newborn baby, whether a girl or a boy, is also equally important. Children go from door to door singing and asking for the Lohri prasad.