Celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Line the diyas outside the door. Sweep the dust from every corner. Line up the boxes of sweets to carry to friends and family. Prepare your newest or finest clothes for the occasion. This is a time for friends and family. A time for celebration and introspection. A display of good over evil. Everyone in India regardless of religion or caste revels in the spectacular festival of lights. Homes are lit up, and open, inviting the Goddess of wealth, luck, and prosperity – Lakshmi – into their homes and lives. 

Diwali, or Deepavali, is known as the “Festival of Lights” and is the Indian celebration of good over evil, hope over hopelessness, and light over darkness. 

Diwali is many festivals rolled into one! 

  • Like Christmas: We decorate and light up streets, and houses. Everyone gets a gift. 
  • Like the 4th of July: We light fireworks. 
  • Like Thanksgiving: We eat specially cooked meals and share them with friends and neighbors. 
  • Like Black Friday sales: 35% of yearly sales in India happen during Diwali! 

Celebrating Diwali over 5 days 

India is not a homogeneous country. The cuisine, attire, weather, and of course traditions vary from region to region. That means there are different stories around the world of the historical significance behind Diwali, but the spirit of this 5-day festival remains the same. 

The first day of celebrations starts with cleaning the house and buying an indulgent metal item for the home. Lavish gold or silver if you can afford it. That’s why the prices of gold skyrocket around the world at this time. 

The second day is spent cooking and making beautiful trays to exchange with friends and family. This is also the day to decorate the home with Rangoli – folk art made on the ground with colored sand, rice flour, or flower petals. 

The third day is the day of Diwali, and it occurs on a dark no-moon night. As a child, I remember decorating our home with strings of lights and getting ready for the evening festivities. After a family prayer to the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth, it’s time to light up the dark night. Candles, diyas, and finally firecrackers. This is also the day to leave the lights on all night. Windows are left open, and the lit lamps are an invitation to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into your home. 

Day 4 of the Diwali festival is when a lot of communities around India ring in the Hindu New Year. Businesses stay closed as they pray for a prosperous new year. As a way of showing respect, people pray to their tools of business. Taxi drivers to their cabs, construction workers to their tool kits, and bloggers to their computers. 

The last day of the Diwali season is the festival that symbolizes a brother and sister’s relationship as they wish each other a long and healthy life. 

Continuing Traditions in a New Country  

Living away from India this past year has brought a new perspective on the festivals I celebrated as a child. My favorite part about Diwali was lighting the lamps, dressing up in a lehenga, and wearing a new outfit every day for 5 days. I loved going up and down the stairs of the apartment building carrying beautiful trays, knocking on doors, and wishing everyone, “Happy Diwali.” I am going to miss a lot of it this year, but I still plan to continue some of my traditions here in California.   

My husband and I have stocked up decorations, lanterns, and a lot of marigold flowers to make garlands for our home doors. We will be creating rangoli and lighting up diyas all around the home and lighting a few sparkles on our balcony. Diwali in my mind has always also been about the abundance of delicious food and endless snacks and sweets, which would always leave me with several extra pounds of weight due to joyful overindulgence with friends and family. This year, we are going to invite our new friends here for an extravagance feast that I am planning to cook from scratch, hopefully, they also gain a couple of pounds representing prosperity 😛 

Diwali around the World 

Not many are aware that Diwali is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2009, President Obama was the first President to celebrate Diwali in the White House. President Trump continued this tradition at the White House and President Biden plans to follow this year with the eminent members of the Indian- American community and members of his administration. Last year, 27 school districts in New Jersey declared a holiday on Diwali. Diwali at Times Square in New York City is the world’s largest celebration outside of India and this year was hosted on October 15th with over 5000 plus people attending. 

As we celebrate Diwali away from home, we are trying to live the beautiful spirit of the festival- of the value of celebrating with family and friends, of the joy of gifting, of being thankful for the wealth that life has given us, and of the eternal hope that good triumphs over evil and light over darkness. Diwali isn’t just about the light from the sparkles of the diyas, the lanterns, or from the firecrackers. On a spiritual level, Diwali is all about being enlightened by the light within! It’s a beautiful reminder that one whose heart is filled with light, will brighten all lives around! 

So, here’s the Diwali wish I leave you with –   

Roshan karo, roshan raho!  

May you spread the light. May you be the light!   

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