Jan 12, 2022

Students Celebrating Pongal, the “Tamil Thanksgiving”

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 that celebrates the lengthening days as the sun returns to the northern hemisphere.

The Rev. Jane Anitha, 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’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?

Because of the new Omicron surge of Covid hitting India, right now only 10-12 Standard (Grade) students returned to school between Christmas and Pongal. But these students celebrated Pongal in their boarding homes, cooking and eating sweet pongal, singing, dancing and giving thanks for all that has been given to them.

Students at Melpattambakkam Boarding Home celebrate Pongal

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