Celebrating Holi: A Beginner’s Guide

Holi, the Festival of Colours is famous for people throwing scented coloured powders over each other. Discover how the festival is celebrated across the UK.

This year Holi, the Festival of Colours, will be celebrated on March 23rd. A religious festival celebrated by Hindus all over the world, Holi is actually celebrated over two days. However it’s the events of the second day with which most people are familiar with. On this second day, people throw or smear scented coloured powders over each other. The colours of Holi are very special and add to the vibrancy of the day. The festival is a celebration of spring, fertility, good harvests, and the return of bright colours after the drabness of winter.

Holi is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and countries with significant Hindu populations. However in recent years, the festival has spread to Europe and North America, where it is regarded as a spring celebration of love, frolic and colours. Traditionally Holi celebrations begin with a Holika bonfire, where people gather, sing and dance. The next morning the carnival of colours begins. Participants chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water. Some carry water guns or water balloons filled with coloured water. The colour fight takes place in open streets, parks and temples, and groups carry instruments.

In recent years, Holi-inspired festivals and events have become popular all over the world. Most of these festivals have shaken off their religious nature, however the festivities are still deeply rooted in original Holi traditions. Whilst specific celebrations are often announced just a few weeks before they happen, we decided to revisit how the festival has been celebrated across the UK in previous years. We’ve also put together a list of tips to help you make the most of the celebrations.

London

Festival of Colours in London

The Capital certainly knows how to celebrate Holi! One of the first large-scale Holi celebrations was run by the Festival of Colour at Battersea Power Station. Since then, the Festival has moved to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in order to accommodate the ever growing crowds keen to thrown Gulal powder over one another! The Festival of Colour celebrations always kick off at midday, with hourly countdowns so that everyone throws their coloured paint together.

Smaller celebrations often pop up around the city, including the Cinnamon Kitchen’s Holi pod – an outdoor extension of the popular City of London-based Indian restaurant. For a fortnight in March, patrons of the restaurant can dress up in white coveralls, and hair nets, and enjoy a paint fight before sitting down to dinner.

Brighton

Holi in Brighton

Known as one of the happiest places to live in Britain, it should come as no surprise that Brighton is home to the ‘happiest 5k on the planet’ – The Color Run – an annual running and walking event, which takes its inspiration from Holi. Runners start the race with pristine white t-shirts, and run through clouds of a particular colour paint every kilometer.  The race then ends with a large, colourful outdoor disco. This year there are Color runs in London in June, Manchester and Glasgow in July, Birmingham in August, and Brighton in September.

Brighton is an hour and half from London, via the M23 and A23.

Manchester

Festival of Colours, Manchester

In Manchester, the Holi One Festival is celebrated in Heaton Park, which is the largest municipal park in Europe. Home to the grade one listed building Heaton Hall, the park is spread over 600 acres, many of which are used by the annual Holi celebrations. Attendees to Holi One are encouraged to wear white, and come together for a day of music, dance,  and performance art. The concept of Holi ‘One’ is linked to unity and equality – with the idea that the colours become a social leveler, where everyone looks the same.

The Holi One Festival is an over-18s experience, with performances from some of the most established DJs in the country, however in recent years, under 18 events, specifically for 16 and 17 year olds have also taken place.

Manchester is a 4-hour drive from both London and Edinburgh. Take the M40 from London, and the M6 from Edinburgh.

Leeds

Holi in Leeds

The Holi One Festival has also been celebrated in the grounds of Harewood House in Leeds. The picturesque stately home was built in the 18th century. During all the ‘Holi One’ celebrations, a special Gulal powder made from rice flur is used. It is organic, and made with natural colourants. The powder is skin-friendly, non-toxic and fully compostable, ensuring both the safety of festival goers, and preserving the natural surroundings at each of the festival venues.

Leeds is also a 4-hour drive from both London and Edinburgh. From London take the M1, and from Edinburgh take the A1 and A1(M).

Practical Advice

Wherever you’re planning on celebrating Holi this year, make sure to follow our practical tips, to make the most of the festival.

– Wear clothes which you don’t mind throwing away. Most Gulal powders should wash out easily, however there may be some colour residue, particularly if you’re wearing white.

– Bring a mask. Whilst most festivals use safe, non-toxic powders, you still want to avoid breathing them in. A builder’s mask, which fits over both your nose and mouth, is the best solution.

– If you’re asthmatic, or have respiratory issues, then keep away from the paint throwing. You can still enjoy the fun from a distance, and the paint clouds are most beautiful when viewed from afar.

– If you want to take photos or videos, make sure you keep your phone or camera in a clear plastic bag. The fine powder can easily get into cracks and gaps.

– If you’re driving to the event, make sure you bring lots of plastic bags and bin liners. Have a clean change of clothes, so you can take off your paint-covered clothes straight away, and remember that the dust will also be in your hair, and on your shoes.

– Wet wipes are a godsend at the end of the day!

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