Tour the world at Queens’ multicultural festivals

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Confetti covers the ground at the Phagwah parade to celebrate the start of spring in Richmond Hill. Photo by Christina Santucci
Participants on a float from Singh's Roti Shop wave to onlookers during the annual Diwali Motorcade in Richmond Hill. Photo by Christina Santucci
Teams fill Meadow Lake in Flushing during the 2012 Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. Photo by Christina Santucci
Children (l.-r.) Devon Yuan, Miguel Remy, Stefano Figueroa, Elizabeth Reyes and Sandra Velasquez stand in line after performing in the Cinco de Mayo festivities at the A.R.R.O.W. Community Center in Astoria. Photo by Christina Santucci
(Clockwise from top) Imam Moulana Mirza Abu Zafar Beg leads a prayer at Jamaica High School as Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramamdan. Photo by Ken Maldonado
Kesho Dukhram dances with his powder during the Holi celebration in Richmond Hill at the conclusion of the annual parade. Photo by Christina Santucci
The Italian Fairy, Simona Rodano, tries to keep her hat on as she marches along Broadway during the Columbus Day Parade in Astoria. Photo by Christina Santucci
Nicholetta Kontogiannis of Flushing carries her Greek flag to St. Nicholas Church's Greek Festival in Auburndale. Photo by Christina Santucci

Whether celebrating their own culture or learning about the practices of others, Queens residents can join in a wide array of ethic and religious-themed festivals throughout the year. Popular gatherings such as Holi, Diwali, and Eid offer a time to honor old traditions and new beginnings through music, dance, and other festivities.

Perhaps the most colorful festival of the entire year is Holi, a festival celebrated by Hindus to honor the beginning of spring. The largest celebration in North America is the Phagwah Parade in Richmond Hill. First held 25 years ago, it is expected to draw 25,000 attendees when it runs on March 30.

“We are honoring the time when Mother Nature rejuvenates herself,” says Pandit Ramlall, the director of HPFC Phagway Parade NY, which runs the annual event in Richmond Hill.

The parade will include a few dozen floats constructed by local community groups, businesses, and temples, as well as marchers, and dancers. It begins at Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street and ends at Smokey Oval Park at 125th Street, where attendees can enjoy music and other cultural performances, as well as a full dousing of colored powder and liquid dye — a Holi tradition.

While the parade is a traditional Indo-Caribbean celebration, everyone is encouraged to join in the festivities.

“Every human who wants to take part is welcome,” says Ramlall. “We treat them all with love and affection.”

The borough’s growing Mexican community and other revelers turns out by the thousands every May for the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Mexican food, music and dancing mark the victory of the Mexican army over the French at Puebla on May 5, 1862.

The Indian festival of Diwali provides another opportunity for Queens residents to celebrate the culture. Colloquially called “the festival of lights,” it marks the beginning of the Hindu new year and calls for the lighting of small clay lamps, which can be placed throughout the home and outdoors.

Shops in Jackson Heights and Richmond Hill can be expected to light paper lanterns over the five-day festival, which begins on Nov. 3 this year, with local restaurants and businesses offering special menus and events. Last year, the Queens Museum of Art held an all-day celebration including dances and talks, while Astoria’s Vishwa Dharma Mandalam Hindu Temple of New York invited visitors to light a candle to kick off the event.

Though not as numerous as Queens’ Hindu community, its Nepalese members hold a festival that’s no less colorful. In the fall, those of Nepalese extract gather to celebrate Dashain, a 15-day religious festival honoring the goddess Durga, eating large feasts and emphasizing familial and community connections.

Offerings of fresh fruit, dairy products, and homemade treats are brought to temples throughout Queens.

Beginning the evening of Oct. 14, Queens’ Muslim population begins the celebration of Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, commemorating the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (known as Abraham to Jews and Christians) to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Throughout neighborhoods with large Muslim populations, such as Jamaica, colorfully dressed worshipers gather, filling the streets outside places of worship such as the Jamaica Muslim Center on 168th Street.

After prayers, the participants head back for a homemade feast, shared with family and friends.

Also in October, the borough’s Italian Americans take to the streets to march in Columbus Day parades in Howard Beach, Whitestone and Astoria.

And in Flushing, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church - believed to be the largest of its kind in the country - holds its annual four-day St. Nicholas festival around Columbus Day. Thousands trek to the Northern Boulevard church for a large selection of Greek food accompanied by Greek music.

Looking ahead, mark your calendar for next year’s Lunar New Year events, which draw thousands to downtown Flushing for the Asian world’s most important holiday.

And be sure to join the celebration of all things Irish every March at the St. Pat’s Day Parade For All in Sunnyside, attended by many of the city’s elected officials, bagpipers and stilt walkers. The Rockaways has its own annual St. Patrick’s parade for the community leading up to March 17.

Updated 10:32 am, March 26, 2013
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