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Celebrating the Festival of Lights: Diwali

hand holding a sparkling sparkler stick against a black background

Diwali is for India what Christmas is for most of the Western world. The lights, gifts, food, and the fun family times are the highlights of this festive season. Diwali gifts are usually in the form of food or something for the entire family, instead of individual gifts. Even if you don’t pray or celebrate the traditional way, it’s easy to be swept up in the fervour of the festival in your own style. Afterall, who can refuse a day filled with food and festivities with loved ones?

Diwali diyas which is a row of earthen lamps on a windowsill with tealight candles lit inside each of them

Diwali Sweets and Savouries

As a kid, I remember our whole joint family lending a hand to get ready for the festivities. In those simpler times, birthdays and Diwali would be the only times in the year we would get new clothes. Sweets and savouries would be made at home since there were limited choices in the stores. These would be gifted to friends and neighbours and the rest devoured by all of us at home. 

child in blue kurta holding a bowl of homemade Diwali sweets (Besan laddu) with his tongue licking his lips
Yummy homemade Besan Laddoos

One of my favourite sweets was the karanji, which is deep-fried dumpling with a sweet filling. I remember watching this being made as a kid. My grandmother would roll out the dough, my grandfather (who stayed well away from the kitchen for the rest of the year) would fill and roll the karanji, and then my mom would fry it. The rest of the household participated in the eating of it.

Over the years, we have taken the easy way out by getting store-bought sweets and snacks. This gives us more time to relax and enjoy the festivities, especially since it was mostly the women who would inevitably end up in the kitchen for the whole day and be too tired to fully enjoy the evening. 

Of course, no store-bought delicacy can equal the taste of homemade fare. As a compromise, we try to make a few simpler items at home. If we have the time and patience, or if more family members are visiting us around this time, then we can make a few family favourites at home.

Diwali Lights

Diwali is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. Lights represent the conquering of darkness in our lives and is one of the most important aspects of the festival. It is also the day when Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshman returned from their 14-year exile after killing the demon king Ravan.

Days before, homes are lit up at night with traditional oil lamps, candles, or light strings. This also ensures that the Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth, Lakshmi, can see your house clearly and enter it, bringing you good fortune for the rest of the year. 

Each region of India has a different way of celebrating the festival, but on Diwali night, everyone makes sure to light up their homes, even if it’s just a solitary earthen lamp.

Buildings and homes lit up in shades of blue and purple for Diwali against a night sky
All lit up and dressed up for Diwali

Diwali Firecrackers

Firecrackers have become synonymous with Diwali. It started out as a joyous celebration but has over the years turned into a nuisance.

I have never enjoyed the loud noises or smoke that comes with bursting firecrackers. I would watch from afar as others enjoyed themselves. Now, as an adult, I’m filled with annoyance as inconsiderate adults blast strings of thousands of crackers the whole day and late into the night, one after the other. 

Our son absolutely loves the ritual of bursting crackers so we do get a few basic ones for him to enjoy over the holidays, but nothing loud and in limited quantities.

Father holding a toddler in his arms and both are looking at another man holding a lit up Diwali sparkler at night time on Diwali
Enthralled by Diwali sparklers

I’ve noticed in recent years, the kids don’t seem as enthused about firecrackers as their parents. There has been awareness through their schools and society about the harmful effects of so much smoke in the air. It’s usually the parents who push their kids to try out the louder crackers.

The day after Diwali, a screen of smoke hangs in the air. Not to mention all the animals, babies, and others not comfortable with loud noises who have to suffer through it.

While I don’t advocate the banning of all fireworks and crackers, people need to reign themselves in when it comes to the quantity and quality of the crackers they burn.

Diwali DIYs

Here are some easy Diwali activities you can do in advance. They’re fun to do with the whole family and won’t take too much time or effort.

a string of green colored paper cut in a leaf shape with scrunched up paper flowers hung on the doorway. There's a painting of Ganesha and madhubani painting on the side wall

Diwali Gifts

Gifts are not mandatory on Diwali, but if you are visiting someone’s house it’s always good manners to carry a small token. Or if you want, you could send out gift hampers a day before to friends, family, and staff working for you. 

a reed basket with handle Diwali gift hamper with jars of traditional sweets, wooden block tea light, greeting card and box of Phool incense sticks
A traditional and sustainable Diwali gift basket

Diwali gifts can be pretty standard—sweets and dry fruit hampers. Most of these sweets are given away as you can’t keep them for long. How can you make your gift stand out from the rest? Here are some tips to make your Diwali hampers extra special:

  • Make a hamper of some homemade treats
  • Opt for contemporary alternatives to traditional gifts such as chocolate-covered dried fruits, candles, trendy ceramic lamps, wines, handmade chocolates and sweets made in the shapes of firecrackers, and so on
  • Jazz up your gift-wrapping technique by using fabric instead of paper wrapping, a reed basket, or even hand painted cloth bags
  • Go green by gifting sustainable products and organic food items
  • Encourage family time by gifting games that the family can play together like Monopoly, conversation starter cards, Charades for kids, Pictionary, or even an adult game if the gift is for a couple

Diwali Rituals

Diwali is when most Indian households do the annual cleaning of their houses. The best way is to start a month early and take it one room at a time, whenever you have a spare day. That way it doesn’t get overwhelming. Clear out stuff not getting any use—dump, donate, or upcycle. (Get some decluttering tips here from my experience in organising our home.)

colourful Diwali lantern in the shape of a star with light bulb inside against a dark night sky

We try and finish all the prep work in terms of decor and food till the day before Diwali. The Diwali strings of lights and lanterns also go up a few days before the festival. It is wonderful to see streets and homes lit up in colourful lights and decorative lanterns.

On the morning of the festival, we finish the food prep for dinner. (Usually, we get part of it home delivered from a restaurant or a cloud kitchen.) 

Mornings are also for buying and decorating with fresh flowers, dried flowers, and /or paper or fabric flowers. 

A rangoli, a design on the floor, welcomes guests and gives your home entrance an added oomph. Rangolis can be made with just plain chalk, coloured powder from the store or homemade, flower petals, or washable paint.

After a relaxed lunch, it’s a good idea to take a nap so that you are rejuvenated for the evening’s festivities. Get all dressed up and do your puja (if that’s something you do), then  begin the party time—meet friends and family, burst firecrackers, eat, drink, and be merry. Playing card games is also a beloved Diwali tradition.

silver tray with marigold flowers and silver idols of Hindu gods surrounded by 4 colourful ceramic oil lamps with the wick lit and the background is dark

What are some of the ways you celebrate Diwali in your homes? Drop in your family traditions in the comment.

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