Lohri is fundamentally an agricultural festival, filled with merry-making. It is celebrated in the state of Punjab on the on the 13th of January, which falls one day before Makar Sankranti. While Lohri is essentially a Punjab festival, it is celebrated in some other states of North India as well. In cities like Delhi, which have a predominant Punjbai population, Lohri is celebrated to denote the last of the coldest days of winter. The Punjab and other areas of North India get very cold in the month of January, and usually the period of the last week of December and the first couple of weeks in January are the coldest of the season. However, after Lohri, the temperature starts gradually rising.
During the day, children go from door to door singing songs in praise of Dulha Bhatti, the Punjabi version of Robin Hood, a thief who helps the poor and fights for their rights. These children are given sweets and savouries, and occasionally, money. These munchies that the children collect are known as Lohri, and they are distributed at night during the festival. Some may be offered to the sacred fire.
The festival of Lohri is celebrated outdoors. As it is usually very cold on the 13th of January, a bonfire is lit, and friends and relatives gather around. If there has been a happy occasion in the family, like the birth of a child or a marriage, Lohri is celebrated with much greater gusto. The happy family usually hosts a party to celebrate the first Lohri of the new child or couple.
Singing and dancing form an intrinsic part of the celebrations. People wear their brightest clothes and come to dance the bhangra and gidda to the beat of the dhol. Punjabi songs are sung, and everybody rejoices.
Sarson ka saag and makki ki roti is usually served as the main course at a lohri dinner. In the villages of Punjab, Lohri is an occasion where the entire village gets together and participates in the celebrations like one big happy family. The bonfire is lit in the main village square, and after a fair amount of song and dance, everyone eats a rich and fulfilling community dinner. During this time, the farmers are undergoing a period of rest because wheat, which is the main crop in Punjab, is sown in October and harvested in March or April. In January, the fresh crop has just started growing, and the farmers are ecstatic.
A prayer is made to Agni, the god of Fire, and Prasad is distributed. The prasad comprises of five main things: til, gazak, gur, moongphali (peanuts), and phuliya or popcorn. An offering is also made of this Prasad to the sacred fire.
Lohri is celebrated throughout the country in different forms, as a harvest festival. It is called Pongal in the South, Bhugali Bihu in Assam, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh and Sankranti in the central part of the country. Modes of celebrating Lohri are also different, but the message conveyed by the festival, that of setting aside differences and rejoicing by celebrating the end of the harvest season and the chilly winter, is the same.