Jan 8, 2024

Students Celebrating Pongal, the “Tamil Thanksgiving”

On January 14-17, 2024, students and their families in Tamil Nadu, India, celebrate the festival of Pongal.

What is Pongal?

Pongal is a popular holiday across the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where our Lutheran partners operate boarding homes.

Taking place over four days in mid-January, it’s a harvest festival marking the lengthening days as the sun returns to the northern hemisphere.

The Rev. Jane Anitha, former manager of Siloam Boarding Home and a pastor in the Arcot Lutheran Church writes:

Pongal is a cultural festival in Tamil Nadu — and not a religious festival — as agriculture is the lifestyle of the land. Pongal is the festival of the farmers, thus it is also called “the Farmers’ Festival”. Further, as the factors that help farmers for their cultivation are all thanked, we may even call it “the Harvest festival.”

Pongal carries 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 coat of fresh paint or add festive decorations. Kolams are beautiful geometric designs of rice flour typically made by women each sunrise in the dirt in front of the entrance to their homes, meant to bring prosperity. 

On the second day, families gather together to share a meal. This day is considered the "main" day and includes the largest celebrations.

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?

Students celebrate Pongal in their boarding homes by cooking and eating sweet pongal, singing, dancing, making kolams, and giving thanks for all that has been given to them, including sponsors like you! 

Students at Good Shepherd Boarding Home celebrate Pongal

They will then return home to celebrate with their families and return to school the following week.

Wish Your Student a Happy Pongal