English meaning of the festival
Makar refers to the star sign Capricorn while Sankranti means transition/passing of sun from one zodiac sign to another. Makar Sankranti heralds the end of winter and the arrival of spring throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
How the date is decided annually
Makara Sankranti is a solar event and it is one of the few Indian festivals which fall on the same date in the Gregorian calendar every year: 14 January, with some exceptions when the festival is celebrated on 13 or 15 January.
Significance of the festival to Hinduism
Makar Sankranti marks the arrival of the Uttarayana period which will continue through the next six months and the whole period is considered an auspicious time. The festival is dedicated to Surya (Sun God). Surya represents knowledge, spiritual light and wisdom. The significance of this festival is that we should turn ourselves away from darkness towards light. We should grow in purity, wisdom and knowledge. We should continuously strive for light, unity, equality and selflessness.
How to observe/practice
We should start our day with Surya Namaskar – offer water to the sun. Thereafter a flower (normally red) is offered to Surya.
Synonyms between major Indian languages
Pedda Panduga (Telugu), Pongal (Tamil), Uttarayana (Gujarati)