Today is Makar Sankrati on the Hindu calendar, a celebration which marks the sun’s trip into the northern hemisphere. It’s supposed to be a highly lucky time, and I make it a policy to take luck wherever I can get it.
I learned (on a BBC site, go BBC!) that MakSank (as I affectionately like to call it) is observed in different ways in different regions. In Punjab, bonfires are lit (it is winter, after all). In Uttar Pradesh (my favorite name for a region anywhere in the world), people bathe in the holy rivers Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati during the festival, which is called Kicheri there. (One New Year’s, when my mother, sister and I were on the beach in Goa, an astrologer came up and compared us to the three rivers; I forget which one I was, but I was flattered nonetheless.) In Southern India, the festival is called Pongal and celebrates the harvest. And in Gujarat and Maharashtra, people of all ages fly kites to observe the holiday.
This last fact reminds me of Clean Monday, the start of Lent, in Greece. When I was a child and we lived there we would join all the other families in driving out to the country with a picnic lunch and kites to fly on that day. No one ever explained to me why the kite-fest; it could be a carryover from a pre-Christian tradition (ancient Greek pottery shows young people with kites). But I suspect that Greeks fly kite at the start of Lent for the same reason Hindus do at Makar Sankrati; to get closer to the heavens and to create a joyful sight for any Being up above (or for the Sun on its journey).
Kites keep popping up lately. My husband and his goddaughter flew one on the beach last week in Nicaragua; they kept calling it a comet (from the Spanish word for kite, cometa), which confused me for a second, but makes sense since both comets and kites are spectacular airborne visions. Emily Dickinson wrote “hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” But I don’t think the feathers are a requirement; it’s the flying that matters. I always find a soaring kite to be such a hopeful sight.