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This week students and their families in Tamil Nadu, India, celebrate the festival of Pongal.

What is Pongal?

Pongal is a very widespread, popular holiday across the India state of Tamil Nadu. Celebrated over four days, it’s a harvest festival the celebrates the lengthening days as the sun returns to the northern hemisphere.

Pongal’s one of the most popular holidays celebrated in Tamil Nadu, carrying the cultural importance for Tamil people that Thanksgiving carries in the United States.

On the first day of Pongal, people traditionally spend the day cleaning their homes, discarding old possessions and giving thanks for new ones. They may give their house a fresh paint, or add festive decorations.

On the second day, families gather together to share a meal.

The word pongal means “to boil over” or “overflow”, and the symbolism of the harvest is celebrated with an overflowing bowl of a sweetened rice dish by the same name.

Pongal Dish
A bowl of pongal is ready for students to eat at Melpattambakkam Boarding Home in Tamil Nadu, India

Day three is dedicated to giving thanks for cattle and all that cows give (e.g. dairy, fertilizer, wealth). Many people decorate their cows with garlands or painted horns.

The fourth and final day of Pongal is spent gathering with friends and families. Many family reunions happen on this day, and other community events are organized to strengthen ties to each other.

How are students celebrating?

In a normal year, students would celebrate in their boarding homes, cooking and eating sweet pongal, singing, dancing and giving thanks for all that has been given to them.

Students watch a pot of pongal cooking during their celebration
Students in the Kalrayan Hills of Tamil Nadu eagerly await a pot of pongal during their holiday celebration.

They’d then returned home for time to celebrate with their families and return to school the following week.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students are already home, where they’ll celebrate with their families.

Wish your student a “Happy Pongal”!

Student will be flying high from all the celebrations this weekend. What better time to reach out and say “hi”?

Wishing your student a happy Pongal and asking them about how they celebrated is a great way to build a relationship! Simply use the form below, or email [email protected]

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    Author Dan Ruth

    Dan Ruth is the executive director of LPGM and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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