Hello! And happy 17th day of Blogmas! If you recall, last year I shared about Hanukkah traditions, and I loved learning about it so much, I figured I’d keep my very own tradition alive and dive into Diwali this year!
One of my very best friends, Yashoni, is Hindu and it has been really awesome to learn about her culture and religion over the last almost 20 years, dang! Unfortunately, a handful of states separate us these days, so she was kind enough to sit down on the phone with me and answer my approximately 100 questions about Diwali.
So, what is Diwali?
Diwali is among the most important festivals celebrated by Hindus, and even some Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists (though inspired by different historical events). It is commonly referred to as the festival of lights and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The celebratory specifics may vary by region, family, and sect, but the holiday is widely regarded as a very festive time of year, the social and decorative likes of which could be compared to Christmas. My friend described the nuances in celebrating as, “Each sect of Hinduism prays to different deities. Diwali is something major and good happening to each one. Any Hindu person is celebrating their respective god’s victory over something important.”
When is Diwali?
The dates of Diwali differ from year to year, because it is based on a lunar calendar. It is celebrated for five days (I think this is so awesome), and typically falls between the middle of October and the middle of November. The main event, or main night, is the day of the new moon in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika. Diwali also coincides with the Hindu New Year.
What are some common traditions?
- Ever had a major spring clean out? Diwali brings about a similar catharsis as many families spend the days leading up to Diwali doing a floor to ceiling clean sweep of their homes. It’s even common for families to deep clean their cupboards. Since Diwali does coincide with the new year, this cleansing is like a fresh start.
- Lights, lights, and more lights. And other decorations too! In India, interiors and exteriors alike are lined with Diyas, which are small clay lamps. Additionally, colored rice powders called Rangoli are used to create vibrant designs at the entrance of homes (pictured below). Here in the U.S.? Have you ever noticed Christmas lights up in October/November? These very well could be Diwali decorations!
- There is, of course, a lot of delicious food. Having had the privilege of being in Yashoni’s wedding, I can attest firsthand to the excellent food that accompanies a Hindu celebration. However, Yashoni did tell me that Diwali foods are not your everyday cuisine, they are very special. This year, her mom mailed her some special Diwali treats!
- New clothes, new shoes, new. Definitely similar to Christmas, Diwali is often celebrated in one’s new or best clothes, saris for women and kurtas for men. In Yashoni’s family, her grandparents used to give everyone a gift, which was often new clothing for Diwali. However, she says all families do this differently and it’s not uncommon for a family to receive one large gift that benefits the household, like a new kitchen appliance or even a car. Diwali is literally, “A new beginning.” Below is a picture of us at her wedding, so you can get a vibe for how gorgeous our saris were!
- Businesses celebrate Diwali too. Much like Christmastime, stores are decorated, and have major sales before everything shuts down for several days to observe the actual holiday.
- Perhaps most importantly, Diwali is a time for prayer and family. If you’re an elder, the younger members of the family will come to you, and family celebrations last all day long. Most of the celebrating is done at home, but many families will visit a temple each day for other religious activities and elders will go to the temple early each morning for prayer.
- Finally, the day of Diwali is celebrated with luxe clothing, fireworks, families all together, and prayer.
Yashoni shared with me that her family often celebrates in the 8 days leading up to Diwali. Each day is a different deity’s day, and they will say different prayers for each deity each day. She also expressed that here in America, the Saturday after Diwali, there is a huge celebration at their local India Center, like a party with friends.
Diwali is a wonderfully festive celebration of good over evil! It’s filled with dazzling lights, delicious food, and spending time with family to bring in the new year. I so enjoyed learning all about Diwali, and I hope you did too!
xoxo leigh ann