Many Americans are Starting to Take Notice of Diwali
Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of the largest festivals on the Hindu calendar, even though Sikhs and Jains also celebrate. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year for many and is often a time to begin anew. Hindus celebrate by lighting diyas or clay lamps filled with cotton and oil. They do this to symbolize the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, happiness over despair. They often hold a large puja or religious ceremony for various gods.
Hindus also celebrate secularly by eating traditional Indian delicacies, hanging out with family and friends, dressing in nice clothes, cleaning the house and shooting off fireworks into the night sky. Kids also receive presents and money on this holiday. It’s almost like New Year’s and Christmas were combined.
In India, kids get a week-long break from school to enjoy the festivities. But for many Hindus outside of India, Diwali often goes on the back burner as work or school responsibilities come first. It’s hard to take off in high school to enjoy the festivities so it really doesn’t even feel like a holiday. One has less time to chat with relatives half a world away. There has long been a fight for a holiday on Diwali. So far, a collection of school districts in NJ, NY, PA, MD, DE, VA, CT, and MA have Diwali off.
10 years ago, many Americans did not know about Diwali. But thanks to an influx of Indian immigrants bringing their culture along with them, the holiday is becoming more and more recognized. Just last year, Westlake designated October as Hindu Heritage Month. Several states including Ohio, NJ, MI, Texas, FL and MA have recognized Diwali as a holiday. The nation’s largest school district announced that students will get a holiday for Diwali starting in 2023. At the White House, an annual diya lighting ceremony has taken place since 2003.
For me, Diwali is one of the most fun, festive, joyous times of the year. I often wear traditional Indian clothes throughout the day. I decorate my home with string lights and colorful sand paintings on the floor known as rangolis. I often consume a lot of snacks and mithai, or sweets, during the festival season in addition to good food such as chole bhature or fried bread with chickpea curry. We light various kinds of diyas or lamps in our home and place them in every room of the house, filling the space with light. We often hold a religious ceremony or puja worshiping many deities such as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, Ganesh, the remover of obstacles and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. Diwali is a time to celebrate with friends and family and a time to begin anew and welcome the new year with positivity. It is certainly one of the most joyous times of year for Hindus.