I’ll be one of the first people to say that America really has no culture. Desperate Housewives and Starbucks do not a culture make. Even our holidays are really nothing more than excuses in mass consumerism, usually featuring lots of chocolate and sugar, and piles of toys. The only real differences between Halloween and Easter are that you have to go out on Halloween for your chocolate, and at Easter it’s delivered first thing in the morning, the better to ruin a peaceful sleeping-in by way of shrieking, messy, hyper children.
Now that my youngest child is officially no longer a toddler, I thought Holi might be a good experience for the family. The annual Holi at Stanford University seemed the perfect opportunity to broaden my children’s horizons beyond expectant holiday greed. The problem was my son, who is one of those kids that can’t stand to be dirty. If he so much as spills a drop of water on himself, it’s the occasion to change his entire outfit, down to socks and underwear.
I showed him Holi videos on YouTube. He started crying that he would be afraid and didn’t want to have color thrown on him. So much for preparation being the best way to handle a kid’s anxiety. I bribed him with the offer of a new water gun and promised I’d wear my gypsy skirt so he could wrap himself up in it and shoot people from under cover. After thinking about it for a short time he agreed to go.
We arrived early, and were among the first on the field, which gave me time to scope out the lie of the land, and my kids time to adjust to where we were. Then we spotted the tables where the colors were going to be distributed, and ended up hovering around, waiting for the fun to start.
Once the color started flying, my boy ran back to me screaming and dove into my skirt, much to the amusement of the woman I was chatting with. Soon, though, he got into the spirit of things and was running to the table and flinging powder every which way. Once he realized that he could actually get away with messing up adults there was no stopping him.
There was a moment in the melee where a beautiful woman in salwar kameez tenderly applied purple to both my cheeks, smiled at me and told me, “Happy Holi.” I felt like I was part of something for once, instead of just observing, or wondering when I could take my hyper, chocolate-ridden children home to clean them up and get them to come down off the sugar.
I tried to teach both my children to say “Holi hai!” My daughter got it, having my ear and talent for mimicry, but my boy is still having trouble with pronunciation of some English words and didn’t quite get it. “Holy huh?” he said.
“No, Holi hai!”
“Close enough, dude.” Meanwhile I was trying to laugh with my mouth closed to keep the colors out, while I got the mental picture of a cosmic chicken sitting on a golden nest somewhere in orbit around Aldebaran, clucking contentedly at the festivities.
After a couple of hours, my boy had had enough and demanded we go right now! By then the field was full of thousands of people, and it was a good time to make our escape. We made our way back to the car against the incoming tide of clean people on their way to play Holi, with my son wishing them “Holy hen!” all the way.
After we’d changed into clean clothes, I asked the kids what they’d thought. My daughter said it was more fun than dyeing Easter eggs. My son insisted he’d not liked it at all. The photos say otherwise, however, and I can prove that he really did enjoy himself.
All in all we had a wonderful day. Attacking random strangers with colored powder and water guns is something you just can’t get away with usually. It was a very freeing experience for all of us.
By the time I’d gotten the kids scrubbed clean (well, clean-ish), had my shower and rinsed the clothes out, the bath looked rather like Jackson Pollock had murdered the Easter Bunny and used acid to dissolve the body in the tub.
As I rinsed away the last of the evidence, I smiled. Somewhere the Cosmic Chicken is clucking peacefully and all is well with the world.