Clouds of colored powder fly from the crowd around senior Shrushti Mehta in early spring. Her face is already dusted in red, purple and blue. She takes a handful of powder from the packet in her own hand and throws the dye at another Hindu celebrator outside of the temple.
Kids run with water guns and a hose, adding streams of water to the chaotic fog of powdered paint. Mehta and her cousins spot a tall white man who sticks out in the mostly Indian crowd, and dare her little sister to go pour water on him.
This Hindu celebration, called Holi, happens every year across India to mark the coming of spring, but Shrushti’s not in India. She’s in a parking lot at 63rd and Lackman Rd. in Shawnee, Kansas.
Members of Kansas City’s Hindu community gather every year to commemorate Holi, the festival of colors, on the same date as thousands others in southern Asia. KC India Mart and other Indian specialty stores around the city stock shelves with the packets of dry, powdered paint in preparation.
Mehta’s parents started bringing her to the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Kansas City on Sundays and for special holidays like Holi when she was little. Now she goes to the festival with her cousins.
“My parents don’t like to come because of the messiness of the holiday itself,” Mehta said. “It’s not your older, traditional people crowd.”
The celebration begins late in the morning on a day marked by the lunar calendar, March 6 this year. People start by smearing the color on each other’s faces and keep adding powder until they are throwing it through the air by the handful.
Once the dust has settled, a bonfire begins in the parking lot. Peas and popcorn thrown in the fire make snapping sounds as people walk around covered in layers of bright color.
Though it’s still early in the afternoon, they use the fire to warm up on cold days late in Kansas City’s winter.
Meanwhile, Northern India is normally 30 degrees hotter than Kansas City. People are soaked dump buckets of water on each other, and pack the streets to commemorate the Hindu tradition.
Although the celebrations are not as huge, Kansas City’s Holi festival draws Indian-Americans and Non-Hindus every year.
“It’s a unique thing that I’m a part of,” Shrushti said. “Everyone is so used to things like Christmas and Easter where this holiday is super different.”
Jewish tradition teaches that Jews in Persia were a day away from execution by a top adviser to the king named Haman more than 2,000 years ago. The genocide was only averted when the secretly-Jewish queen, Esther, risked death by revealing her religion.
Judaism commemorates this day every year with a holiday called Purim. For senior Margo Hellman, it’s a celebration of Jewish identity.
“The holiday itself is supposed to celebrate being Jewish and being proud of it,” Hellman said.
Kids wear costumes during an evening of celebration to mimic Esther’s hidden identity. Similar to Halloween, costumes can be anything. The last time Hellman participated, she went as a chili pepper.
Even though there are many Jews who do not celebrate this holiday, Hellman attends with her family almost every year. She understands why other families don’t stay in the habit of celebrating each smaller holiday in the year.
“I think for kids, it’s just a fun thing,” Hellman said. “You eat a lot of food. For adults, it’s the same thing over and over again.”
At the synagogue, a typical service is always followed by a play on Pirum. Involved adults in the synagogue perform the roles of the story behind the holiday.
“Costumes are just whatever you can throw on,” Hellman said. “It’s supposed to be balanced between funny and dramatic.”
Synagogue volunteers read the story from the Megillah, the holy text that tells the story of Jews in Persia. When the speaker reads the name of the man nearly responsible for the genocide, Haman, children boo and the audience uses noisemakers.
“It’s kind of a ploy to keep kids interested during the play,” Hellman said.
Ploy or not, the story includes themes of bravery, salvation and pride in Jewish heritage.
“It resonates because it’s celebrating being who you are and that you’re proud of that,” Hellman said. “I’m proud of who I am, how I was raised and what I believe in.”
Chinese New Year
Huddled around a telephone, the Ma family waits for the long-distance call to connect. The ringing suddenly stops and out comes a “nín hâo?”
“Xīnnián kuàilè!” Happy New Year!
Senior Clara Ma is on the phone with her grandparents to wish them a Happy New Year — but it’s not January 1. The Ma family celebrates Chinese New Year, which took place on Feb.19 this year.
The main idea of the holiday, for Ma, is to come together with family. To her, it’s the perfect time to connect with relatives over 7000 miles away.
“My immediate family that lives in Kansas City will all come together to call our relatives in China,” Ma said. “We will first call our grandparents, the eldest in the family, as a sign of respect.”
Another tradition the Ma family has is to make “nian gao”, which is the Chinese New Year cake. Prepared with sticky rice, this dessert is made year round, but most commonly around the holiday. The Ma family gets together every year to make the cake together.
Along with the baking, it is a tradition to wear red, the color for good luck and fortune. The Ma’s wear red as much as they can to celebrate.
The Spring Festival, often referred to as the Chinese New Year, is a time for celebration and wishing people a happy and healthy new year. In Kansas City, the performances at the the Kansas City Chinese American Association (KCCAA) are one of the only authentic celebrations for the Spring Festival, according to Ma. Ranging from acrobats to singers, the performances help create a festive atmosphere for Chinese natives.
Dancing, magic and playing of the “erhu,” a traditional Chinese instrument, are all elements KCCAA has to make sure Chinese people feel at home for the most important holiday of the Lunar year.
Each of the 15 days of the New Year has a theme. For example, the first day is a celebration of the year, the second is visiting family and the eleventh is a day where fathers-in-law entertain sons-in-law.
The final day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival. This marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated by releasing paper lanterns into the sky and setting off fireworks. It’s the end of the holiday, but the beginning of a season.
Sitting in the cafeteria, eating, chatting with friends. A typical Friday. Freshman Martha Sniezek pulls out her sandwich to eat.
“Ugh, Mom! I can’t have this!”
It was a turkey sandwich.
The Sniezeks are a Catholic family who participate in the holiday of Lent. This is a Christian holiday that lasts for 40 days and is a time of forgiveness and preparation for Easter. One aspect of the holiday is no meat on Fridays to celebrate Good Friday.
Lent is all about commemorating His sacrifice, so it is common to give up something and sacrifice in His name.
The holiday begins on Palm Sunday, which celebrates when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The next important day is Ash Wednesday. It celebrates the beginning of fasting. Before work and school, Catholic families go to mass. There, the priest will have a bowl of blessed ashes. These are the palm leaves from Palm Sunday burned up. He will dip his thumb the bowl and spread them into a cross on each person’s forehead and recite “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” referring to Genesis, a book of the Bible.
The holiday finishes on Easter, the day Christ was resurrected.
“Lent is a way to reconnect me to the Church,” Sniezek said. “It reminds me to follow the morals of Catholicism throughout the year and has opened my eyes to things beyond what I thought I knew about my faith.”
Sniezek’s father, Bob, grew up and raised his kids in the Catholic religion. They have attended St. Ann Catholic Parish Church and CCD, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, a program through the Catholic Church that provides religious education.
Personally, Sniezek has given up or added something every year during Lent. This year she is not giving anything up but praying every day, while last year she gave up candy.
Lent is 40 days of sacrifice to praise Jesus Christ.
“Participating in Lent and knowing I have faith helps me keep the Church in my life throughout the year,” Sniezek said.