By Ulash Thakore-Dunlap
Many people across the United States and the world will be celebrating Diwali on November 12. Diwali is a time when family, friends, and community members come together to celebrate light and hope. Diwali is an important holiday for South Asians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, some Buddhists, as well as others who celebrate this important festival.
Each family will have different traditions and rituals to mark the Diwali festivities. Diwali is one of my favorite holidays filled with fond memories of laughter, delicious home-cooked Indian dishes, and being with family and friends.
As a child, I always enjoyed celebrating Diwali with my family. I was born in London, England where there is a large South Asian community. The eve of Diwali, my mum and aunties would be busy in the kitchen cooking delicious Indian dishes. Each year, my mum would buy me a new Indian outfit to wear for Diwali. I was always excited to have a new Indian dress to wear. The night of Diwali in my family home, we would light diva (also known as Diya) oil lamps to ward away the darkness and welcome in the light.
I now live in the United States with my husband and son, and all my family still resides in England, UK. Every Diwali, I invite my friends to my San Francisco home to celebrate with food and to light diva lamps.
Reflecting on my Diwali experiences made me curious as to ways others celebrate Diwali in the United States. For this article, I asked people what they most enjoy about Diwali, and the kind of rituals and activities they take part in. Everyone I interviewed shared what they most enjoy about Diwali is being with family and friends, enjoying the food, and lighting divas lamps.
Teens I spoke to shared that during Diwali they enjoy being with family and friends, and eating Indian sweets. Shantanu age 14 expressed, “What I most enjoy about Diwali is eating sweets and deserts that are prepared for the occasion and also seeing my cousins.” Ezra age 14 also enjoys seeing family and friends, eating, lighting divas, and dressing up in his Indian clothes.
“What I enjoy most about Diwali is getting dressed up. I rarely get to wear my Indian suit and Diwali is one of the only times I get to wear it.” The teenagers value the importance of connection to others, and the rituals shared with their family and friends.
The adults I interviewed reminisced on their childhood experiences and the Diwali rituals shared with their families. Harpreet remembered being with family during Diwali and the home-cooked dishes.
“On Diwali, my parents made sure to make lots of pakoras! My late dad enjoyed cooking a lot and so he was thrilled whenever Diwali would fall on his day off,” he said. For Harpreet making diva lamps and lighting them was also part of Diwali traditions in her home.
“I remember watching my mom make a diva out of dough and light it up in our prayer area every year. We would also make sure all of the lights inside our house were on and had divas in every room from our local Indian store.”
Arpana recalls her childhood experiences filled with the diva lamps, fireworks, and new clothes. “It’s been a while since I celebrated Diwali the way I used to as a child. As a kid, it was about fireworks, and new clothes. I would wake up early in the am, have a head bath, wear new clothes and set off some fireworks with friends, draw rangoli’s, light lamps.”
Each person I interviewed emphasized Diwali being filled with rituals and having a connection to others. Whatever Diwali rituals and practices are celebrated by you, may there be light and hope this Diwali.