Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali traditions

My informant was born and raised in Fresno, California. His parents immigrated to the United States from India. He described the traditions his family has to celebrate the Indian holiday of Diwali:

“What Diwali basically is, is actually the festival of lights. Me and my family, we celebrate it every year around October. It’s always towards the end of October but the actual date changes every year. So this year, it was actually when I was away at college. So what we did is I ‘webcammed’ with my mom, and the webcam was right there, and I saw all the rituals they were doing. And there’s actually two days of it. So we light candles, and the candles are supposed to represent purity and they’re supposed to guard us from all the impure things that happen in our house, like greed and dishonesty. And by lighting the candles, that gets rid of all of that. So the first day, they light up twelve candles, and the second day, which is the main day, they light up twenty-one candles. There’s twenty small candles in a circle and in the middle is one bigger candle. By candle, I mean something called a diya, which is like a wooden pot, so to speak. The bigger candle is supposed to be lit all night, and my mom usually stays up all night to like, protect it and see if it’s lighting up. And usually, our tradition is we stay up all night and play games and invite some family friends over. What we do on the second day is, after we’re done with the prayers and stuff is we eat. My mom always makes really good food. It changes every year based on our preferences, but it’s always our favorite food. So it’s a really huge deal for us and other Indian families. And three, four weeks before and after Diwali there’s always parties—Indian get-togethers—where everyone wears Indian clothes. And it’s always a big deal. We always call our relatives in India, wish them a happy Diwali. We light fireworks. Decorations include lights around our whole house—like Christmas lights—so usually our lights stay up from Diwali until Christmas.”

Diwali is a holiday rich in rituals that have been around for centuries, but my informant updated it in a way by participating in the rituals via webcam. They used new technology to perpetuate their old traditions. Like many folklore traditions, Diwali is unifying for my informant’s family; they make an effort to call each other to wish each other happy Diwali despite being thousands of miles away. It is interesting how one element of the holiday—the lights strung around the house—carry over so seamlessly from Diwali to Christmas. Despite the vast differences between these two holidays, they both incorporate decorative lights. Yet as my informant explained, the lights for Diwali are integral to the significance and meaning of the holiday in a deeper way than they are for Christmas. He said that the lights around the house and the candles lit inside the home are believed to protect the family from impurities. It is a pretty literal symbol, with the light combatting the darkness in the way that pure virtues should combat evil ones, but it is a beautiful one nonetheless. The beauty of the holiday paired with its religious and cultural significance as well as its unifying nature make it a very special one for people all over the world.

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