USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lights’
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Festival of Lights

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals— the subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. I asked her to elaborate on a few of the festivals and she mentioned that her favorite is the Festival of Lights. The Festival of Lights takes the weekend following Thanksgiving which signifies the entry into the winter, or the ‘holiday season’. Despite not necessarily being a religious celebration, I find it interesting that the festival chooses to feature figures traditionally associated with Christmas (i.e. Santa, Mrs. Clause, etc.). Additionally, the fact that the subject can name the precise restaurants where the appearances take place underscores the small town’s community and the importance of the event to her.

Main Piece

“The Festival of Lights takes place at, like, night at, like, usually 7 or something like that—maybe not quite that late, yeah. Um, but there’s a parade and you go downtown and it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, um, and, like, Santa comes down to the plaza and he goes up into the balcony of one of the restaurants called…I think it’s the Bookroom? Or maybe it’s Granite Tap House. I think it’s the book room [nods]. It’s gotta be the book room. Um, and he comes out on the balcony so does Mrs. Clause and one of the reindeer—‘cuz you know they’ve been, like, coming down the street—and they turn off all the lights in the town. And then they count down from ten…[she pauses for dramatic effect] and every single Christmas light lights up and my town becomes a winter wonderland [she smiles broadly]. Um, and then you can get hot chocolate afterwards and there’s caroling—people who like stand and sing carols and it is—ugh, it’s so much fun and so quintessential small town.”

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali Celebration

Informant Bio: Informant is my father.  He was born in Mumbai, India and moved to the U.S . when he was 22.  He still remembers many of the poems and songs from his childhood.  He is fluent in over five languages and provides the original folklore and translations below.

 

Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions, rituals, songs sung and tales performed.

 

 

Item: “As a kid growing up one of my favorite, perhaps my most favorite holiday was Diwali, or Devali.  We waited for that holiday for months, and, uh, preparations were all around us, you know, my mother used to be busy for months making sweets and goodies that could be shared with family and friends during the holidays.  It actually was a great time of the year weather-wise; we had our half-yearly exams in the schools just before the Diwali vacation so we were more relaxed for the three-four week holiday across schools and colleges across the country.  No matter where you went people would be preparing or anticipating Diwali.

 

One of the things I enjoyed most as a kid was going to different sweet and gift shops with my dad.  You’d be buying custom packages of sweets and you could pick and choose what you wanted in the box.  One of the things I enjoyed the most was that you were allowed to taste everything in the shop.  I really enjoyed this process especially since we would never normally buy these kinds of things.  I’d give my suggestion to my dad and he would listen and agree – this was my bonding time with my dad.  These boxes were decorated extensively and wrapped, and we would then go to different peoples homes where he would give them the gifts with me by his side.  I would shake hands with the people and greet them, wish them ‘Happy Diwali’, and in general have a very pleasant experience and be able to meet different people and see new places.  Most of these people were my father’s business associates or people who’d done him favors throughout the year.  He remembered most of the people who he felt he owed something.  The gifts were a way to give back and everyone accepted gifts at this time.

 

Diwali is, uh, in some sense a religious holiday depending on the religion that you follow.  India has a lot of religions and lots of uh, variety of people with backgrounds, ethnicity and culture, but somehow all people celebrated this particular holiday.  Rich and poor, Hindu and not Hindu, children and adults all participated.  It’s like Christmas in the U.S. in that you cannot move around without being touched by the holiday.  Growing up, Diwali was not commercialized like Christmas is in the U.S. however.  Diwali is when businessmen closed their fiscal year and represents the start of the new year based on the Lunar calendar.  There is no consensus on the exact calendar so Diwali is celebrated at different times throughout the country (sometimes a day or two ahead or behind other places).  It falls on the last month of the year (in the no moon phase of the lunar calendar).

 

The festival itself is five to six days long, and in some parts of the country it stretches to fifteen days.  It usually falls somewhere in October or November.  Uh, mainly most of the people celebrate five days.  The first day is called ‘Dhanteres’ meaning the thirteenth day of the lunar calendar on the no moon side.  Dhan means ‘wealth’ and, that’s the day that businessmen especially would worship their books, and sort-of be thankful for the good year that they’ve had, and, uh that’s a big celebration and right after that there are some sweets and other things that are distributed.  Bonuses are given out to employees and it is a very happy day for most people.  They worship the books and wealth because in Indian culture wealth is not taboo; the pursuit of wealth is considered part of every person’s endeavor.  It is believed that if you are wealthy or if the goddess of wealth has bestowed her blessings on you, it just means you are being rewarded for your good deeds in the past life.  If you continue doing good deeds, you will be rewarded in the future life if stuff isn’t working out right now.

 

The following day is called “Kali Chaudus”, with Kali meaning evil, occurring on the fourteenth day of the lunar cycle in which the evil is won over by goodness.  It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

 

Then comes the Diwali, which is, uh, on the day of the New Moon.  The way the festivities work is that all throughout these holidays people wear nice clothes with the women dressing up.  On that particular day of Diwali there are feasts all over the place.  This is the thing that people really look forward to.  How do people spend months preparing for this?  Girls and older women especially would adorn the entrances to their homes with what is called ‘rangoli’ right outside the door on the side.  They would make dry paints on the floor itself and go in different designs with some of them getting really elaborate, making different shapes.  Basically this is all to welcome visitors that they would be expecting in the holidays.  It reaches a point where regionally people may have competitions among the amateur artists in which the best rangoli is chosen.  The other thing that children were involved with, and this probably didn’t happen throughout the country but did in the area I grew up, was the people in the neighborhood would get together and setup in one of the building compounds that is fenced off.  It would be a 20 feet by 20 feet area in which they’d make different sculptures, statues, a water dam, or maybe scientific experiments.  This would be strung together in an elaborate showing and people would come visit and provide feedback, criticize or admire the work that was done.  You always wanted to put on the best show, it was kind of like show and tell in that you wanted to show the best stuff possible.  There would be more regional competitions which sort of brought out the competitive spirits and different kind of activity that you don’t get involved with during the year or normal school days.  I, as a kid, spent a lot of time trying to come up with ideas and putting these things together.

 

One of the big things during this time is firecrackers.  There were no restrictions about lighting them up.  They were freely available in stores, in fact this was a boom time for all the small shops that carried them.  Surprisingly, there were very few accidents where people got hurt.  I lit up a ton of firecrackers (and everyone else did too).  Every morning, starting around 4/5AM until 8/9AM you’d hear firecrackers and then again at night from 7PM to midnight.  This went on in every street in every corner of the city.  Yes it was noisy, but this was Diwali so people were celebrating so people would expect it and get used to it.

 

The other thing that would happen was just before Diwali people would decorate their homes with different lights, after all this is the festival of lights.  So, they would have electric bulbs sort of strung together in different patterns, decorative lights, and also some, uh, lanterns that are hand-made and oil burning flame.  These lanterns would be all over the place and people would make very elaborate shapes and be artistic with the light.  It looked beautiful; wherever you turned, you saw lights and the celebration, and that was Diwali.

 

This went on and on.  The day after Diwali, businessmen would worship the goddess of wealth and start their books for the new year.  There was no money exchanged but orders would be placed so it was sort of a big start for the new year.  People would be very joyous and contracts would be exchanged.

 

The next day is considered New Year’s Day according to the Hindu calendar.  That morning, people would get up early both children and adults.  They would wear their best clothes that they saved/planned to wear.  People would go out to friends and relatives’ houses, teachers, doctors and dentists houses and would knock on their doors and wish them happy new year.  They would be invited in and would take a little bit of snacks and sweets and went from home to home and place to place.  This would go on for almost a whole day.

 

The following day, the second day of the year, is called “Bhaibeej” or brother’s day.  Sisters would invite their brothers and their family to come to their home for dinner, and, uh the brother would bring some special gift for the sister and sort of vow to protect her that no harm would come to her that year.  That basically would end the Diwali.  Some parts of the country would have extra days of a Mini Diwali celebration with the same festivities on a smaller scale continue.

 

Analysis: Diwali represents the triumph of brightness over darkness and good over evil.  The festival legend surrounds the return of Lord Rama from a fourteen year exile.  He was fighting the demon king Ravana and succeeded.  People lit a path of oil lamps for Lord Rama and his family to follow back to their palace.  This would be an extraordinarily happy time that calls for celebration, as Diwali does.

 

Highly illuminated homes signify a connection to the skies and heavens; people are trying to show respect while also garnering a connection with the heavens for the attainment of wealth, happiness and prosperity (all associated with light).  The use of firecrackers helps call attention to the heavens of humans and their happy expressions.  The significance of light could also be investigated on an internal level.  We want avoid being consumed by darkness, but instead exude the light so that we can make the world around us a better place, achieve illumination of the soul and be closer to the heavens.

 

Interviewer Note: I included some pictures of the rangoli and Diwali celebrations in the attachment labeled ‘Diwali Pictures.docx”.


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.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual – Arizona

You must put up your Christmas lights and decorations Thanksgiving weekend and they must be taken down New Years weekend.

Notes:

The subject’s street is known as “Christmas Street” to the city and is a stop on the Phoenix Light Tour during the holidays for tourists. It received this name because everyone on the street goes all out to decorate for the holiday season. Simple strands of Christmas lights are not accepted, his street has mini ferris wheels, a Candyland-themed house, a Disney character themed house, and many more. The neighborhood is very close knit and takes immense pride in celebrating the holiday season together and with the community. The Christmas Street ritual is taken very seriously, with the neighbors often giving free sets of Christmas lights to the new neighbors , as well as showing them a video of the street so they know what they are getting themselves into. The subject feels that the ritual of when to put up and when to take down the lights came to be after a bunch of neighbors got together to talk about the holidays. The Christmas street phenomenon was born then and there. He says that this ritual is even expected of the visitors, as crowds of people start to walk the street the day after thanksgiving and are disappointed when the entire street is not at its known magnificence.

I think that this ritual reflects making the Christmas season as long as possible, so as soon as thanksgiving is done, the lights go up and are not taken down until the next big holiday, New Years.  This custom is followed by a lot of people, since Christmas has transformed into a season, with holiday music playing on the radio at this time and Christmas decorations up in the malls around this time as well. I think its interesting the way American culture has transformed this holiday into a plethora of festivities, this subject’s street is a perfect example. Pictures of the street are attached.

The subject’s home:

The subject’s neighbor’s home:

[geolocation]