Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is the day I most eagerly anticipate every year. Decorating our home with lights and flowers, eating delicious food, buying and wearing new clothes… what’s not to love? The last few Diwalis have become infinitely more significant, as I’m creating new traditions with my young son, Veer. This year, Diwali falls on Wednesday, Nov. 7. (Local celebrations begin Oct. 20; see below.)
For practicing Hindus, this ancient festival denotes the defeat of the evil Ravana by Lord Rama and Sita. For me, as a parent, the festival’s significance has grown. In a world that seems dark and bleak, a tradition that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and of love and family, to me, stands as a beacon of light and hope.
Even for those who don’t celebrate the holiday's religious significance — and many don’t in the countries where I’ve lived, including in Singapore and India — it can still be an incredible way to bring together different communities to bond over celebration and food.
Special foods and sweets
Speaking of food, feasting is an important part of typical Diwali celebrations. In my childhood home, my mother would make fried bread (pooris) to be eaten with a flavorful potato curry, as well as a whole host of Indian desserts (mithai). Every family has its own traditions about meals, but sweets always take centerstage on Diwali. To pay homage, every year I attempt to recreate my mother’s halwa, a deceptively-simple sounding and delicious dessert made of flour, clarified butter and sugar.
Here in Seattle, it’s easy for the holiday to come and go like any other day. Indeed, I’ve spent the majority of them at work since I moved to the United States, and I will do so again this year. But as evening comes, I and other observant Hindus rush home to light clay lamps, pray and feast with loved ones, striving to keep this rich tradition alive.
Each family I’ve met over the world celebrates a little differently — some adorn their floors with patterns made of colored rice or sand (rangoli), like I do, in advance of the big day. Legend goes that decorating our homes invites Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to bless us for the year ahead. Others host lavish Diwali parties for friends. I’ve usually celebrated privately with family, at home. But this year will be different.
I’m excited to take my son Veer to various celebrations around town. In years past, we've avoided these hectic public gatherings, preferring to celebrate with only those close to us. But if not only for Veer’s sake, this time in history demands that we make new friends, and learn from and listen to people different from us. It becomes more crucial than ever to partake in each other’s traditions and cultures, to cherish the light amongst the dark.
At its core, that is the spirit of this ancient festival. Read on for a list of local Diwali events, and perhaps we'll see you at some of them. From my family to yours, have a very happy Diwali!
When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
When: Thursday–Friday, Nov. 1–2
When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 5–7:30 p.m.
When: Sunday, Nov. 11, 3:30–9:30 p.m.
When: Check website for schedule, typically during the month of December.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated for 2018.