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Diwali, known as the "Festival of Lights," is one of the most significant holidays on the Indian subcontinent. It honors the victory of light over darkness and is a five-day celebration that falls on the month Kartika of the Hindu lunar calendar (between mid-October and mid-November).
Growing up in a traditional Indian household, Diwali was like Christmas for my family. It offered no shortage of delicious food, colorful decorations, and quality time with friends and loved ones. We donned new clothes and partook in an exchange of gifts. To say Diwali was the most exciting time of year would be an understatement.
As I've gotten older, I've realized how important it is to keep the traditions of Diwali alive. I have a greater desire to pass the traditions along to my own children. And to also share the Diwali fun with those who are looking to learn more about the holiday. So whether you've celebrated Diwali your whole life or are a first-timer, there are several ways to enjoy the auspicious festival with kids. Here's the history behind Diwali, Diwali activities you can enjoy with your kids, and Diwali festivals around the country to look into.
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History of Diwali
It's believed that Diwali had its roots as a harvest festival. Farmers would celebrate Diwali to mark the reaping of their crops in ancient times.
Hindu traditions vary extensively over the significance of Diwali, with customs in North India, South India, and Sri Lanka offering their own explanations. Many Hindus link the festival to the goddess Lakshmi, known as the goddess of wealth. It is believed that during Diwali, Lakshmi is most receptive to her devotees, and thus able to fulfill their prayers.
Diwali also marks the beginning of the new year, as far as businesses are concerned. On the first day of the festivities, many Indians clean their homes and business areas, and light diyas (small oil lamps). These rituals are done to bring good luck. My mom used to make a "game" out of cleaning when we were kids, rewarding my brother and me with a Diwali sweet if we did a given number of tasks. So parents, take note! This is a great excuse to involve the kids in cleaning the house.
The second and fourth days of Diwali are celebrated in honor of various gods and goddesses themselves, while the final day— bhai beej (brothers' day)— honors the bond between brothers and sisters. On that day, my brother will come over and I'll make him his favorite food, or we'll go get dinner somewhere. I love that it gives us another reunion opportunity throughout the busy year.
Regardless of where in the world Diwali is celebrated—Northern India, the United Kingdom, Southern India — elements of light, goodness, and knowledge are the common themes.
Diwali Activities for Kids
Diwali is associated with myriad traditions. Here are a few kid-friendly versions that I enjoy with my little ones.
As a kid, I loved participating in rangoli contests. My friends and I would make flowers, mandala-type circles, and peacocks. Rangoli is a form of art that uses colored powders and flower petals to craft aesthetic designs inspired by shapes and nature. Traditionally, people will create them outside, in front of their doors, but you can use any open space. We bought stencils a couple of years back and all of the kids in my family had fun making their own designs. These stencils can help your kiddos make stunning masterpieces too!
The historical events surrounding Diwali still confuse me to an extent. That's why I love reading Diwali children's books with my kids, nieces, and nephews. They explain each auspicious day of Diwali in a simplified manner. Plus, I love seeing the little ones learn the meaning behind each tradition and become familiar with the gods and goddesses. This link has many Diwali books, for children of all ages.
Whether you've celebrated Diwali your whole life or are a first-timer, there are several ways to enjoy the auspicious festival with kids.
DIY Oil Lamps and Lanterns
If your kiddos are tiny, no need to worry about a fire hazard when you make these crafts. These paper diyas and lanterns by Growing up Gupta give your little ones the chance to revel in the light that is Diwali. My daughter's teacher is planning on doing this activity with her class!
DON'T MISS! A Magical Family Adventure in India
I can't forget the most important part of Diwali… SWEETS! Your kids may still be chocolate wasted from Halloween, but allow them one further indulgence with Diwali sweets. These are typically made of ghee, sugar, and flour then garnished with nuts or coconut. Madhu's Everyday Kitchen has 5 simple recipes you can try. I'd recommend the almond halwa or coconut laddoo for the most quintessential Diwali experience! If you don't want to make Diwali sweets yourself, your local Indian store should have an assortment (but buy them early, as they will sell out fast).
Diwali Celebrations Across the U.S.
Diwali celebrations occur in cities around the country. The New York and New Jersey areas have tons to choose from. If you're near New Brunswick, NJ, look into this COVID relief family celebration. Or go to this Children's Diwali Puppet Show in Newport, NJ.
On the west coast, LA County's Indian American Professional Organization will be hosting this family-friendly party. In Northern California, Alameda County will be hosting a Diwali festival on November 3rd. If you live near Houston, Texas, there's this two-day festival to attend.
Check with your local community for Diwali events happening in your area. Chances are you'll find temples, community organizations, and local governing bodies celebrating in some form or another.
Diwali is the time of year we kindle our inner light and aim to make the world around us brighter. It's an excellent holiday to spend with kids, as they can engage in creative activities or learn more about the festival's significance. You might even live near a Diwali festival that can give your family the chance to partake in the happy day. However you choose to spend Diwali, may it be vibrant, sweet, and bright!
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