What is Diwali?
Diwali (also spelled as Divali) literally translates to "row of lights", and is a five-day religious festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is commonly known as a Festival of Lights and gets its name from the row of clay lamps that families light both inside and outside their homes during this holiday. Occurring in either October or November, its third and main day falls on the fifteenth day of Kartik, on the day of the new moon. This year, the holiday begins on November 2, 2021, and ends on November 6, 2021. The third and main day of the festival is November 4.
The festival and holiday itself honors Rama-chandra or Lord Rama, who is believed to have returned to his people on this day after fighting and winning a battle against the demons and demon king, Ravana. Families light their homes to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, or knowledge over ignorance. Lakshmi, the goddess of happiness and good fortune, is also thought to roam the earth on this day and enter homes that are pure, clean, and bright, so the festival is also associated with light, wealth, prosperity, and happiness.
What are some traditional customs or activities?
Observations during this festival can vary depending on one's religion and traditions, but some traditions commonly include the following across the five days. The first day of Diwali is dedicated to cleaning homes or doing chores. Families may also purchase small items made of gold to bring good fortune. On the second day, families decorate their homes, often with rangoli (pictures made out of colored powder and sand) and diyas (clay lamps). The third day, which is the darkest day of the month, is the primary day of the Diwali festival and can include visits to family/elders, prayers, fireworks, and feasting with family members. The fourth day celebrates the bond between husband and wife, and as it is the first day of the new year, friends and relatives often visit with one another. The fifth and last day of Diwali celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, and brothers will often visit with their sisters on this day.
What are some traditional foods associated with Diwali?
Diwali is different from some other Indian festivals in that there is no fasting, and in fact, feasting with family members is one of the common traditions of this holiday! Indian sweets and desserts are an essential part of Diwali celebrations. Many of these are fried foods consisting of sugar, chickpea flour, and condensed milk such as Badam Halwa (an almond pudding), laddu or ladoo (little balls made with flour, ghee or oil, sugar, and often with nuts or fruits like raisins), barfi (a kind of fudge) and gulab jamun (similar to donut holes and served in sweet syrup!). In addition to sweets, other common foods include appetizers such as pakora and samosas, idli (a kind of rice cake), and puri (a type of flatbread).
How can you wish others a "Happy Diwali"?
You can certainly share this sentiment by simply saying "Happy Diwali," or you could share a traditional Diwali greeting such as "Wishing you a Diwali that brings happiness, prosperity, and joy to you and all your family" or "May every aspect of your life be as luminous and wonderful as the lights and lamps of Diwali!"
How can I celebrate Diwali with my family this year?
Families can participate in several activities to celebrate this holiday! Some of these can include:
- Get creative and make some rangoli art at home or decorate by making some homemade diyas!
- Celebrate by making or buying some of the traditional Indian foods such as the ones linked above! It's common to exchange boxes of mithai among family and friends during this time. Click here for 11 quick recipes for Diwali sweets!
- Talk to your child about the Diwali holiday and the traditions and customs of this festival. You can do this through any of the above activities, or by reading some books that focus on this special holiday. Prince William's Public Libraries will be hosting a free Livestream reading of the children's book Happy Diwali! with co-author and illustrator Courtney Pippin-Mathur, on November 15 from 10:30-11:30 am ET.
Enjoy some of the spectacular celebrations and performances happening, including cultural performances and light displays.
Looking for resources on how to do any of the above?
While many organizations are unable to safely host in-person events this year, many are still hosting these virtually! We encourage you to check out some of the interests below!
The Heritage India Festival's "Diwali Spectacular" will take place at the Dulles Expo Center from October 30-31, 2021.
"The Diwali festival is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season and enjoy the vibrant colors, fragrances, sounds, and delicacies of one of the Indian subcontinent. Featured attractions for 2021's Diwali festival include two full days of shopping from over 300 vendors, exciting children's activities, sumptuous cuisine, desserts and beverages from all parts of South Asia, and much more!" Make sure to sign up for the Heritage India Festival's newsletter here for future updates and events!