To me, Diwali is one part 4th of July (fireworks) four parts Christmas (gifts + lights + family time + religious services) and three parts something else entirely (colored powder designs + rows of oil lamps + Indian sweets).
According to Wikipedia:
The name “Diwali” or “Divali” is a contraction of “Deepavali” (Sanskrit: दीपावली Dīpāvalī), which translates into “row of lamps.” Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (dīpa in Sanskrit:दीप) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. These lamps are kept on during the night and one’s house is cleaned, both done in order to make the goddess Lakshmi feel welcome. Firecrackers are burst because it is believed that it drives away evil spirits. During Diwali, all the celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.
This was my first experience of Diwali in an urban part of India. The last time I was here for Diwali, I was trekking with friends in a remote part of the Himalayas. We watched a performance by a traveling musical troupe; participated in a nighttime ceremony for Lakshmi – Goddess of Wealth; and had a rockus dance party with village children.
This experience was a bit different. There was Sari & Kurta (traditional clothes) Day at work, fireworks exploding every which way, attendance at a temple puja (religious service), and coming home to find my roommate had adorned our apartment with a beautiful Rangoli design comprised of lights, flowers, and colored powder.
There are some downsides to Diwali. These include people being especially impatient and ornery in their car honking (not unlike the “Christmas rush”), the feeling that you’re in a warzone as firecrackers unexpectedly explode beside you,
the danger of attempting to set of firecrackers yourself (and ending up nursing your burnt thumbs in a cup of ice at Cafe Coffee Day)…you’ll notice that most of the downsides have to do with fireworks….
I love the idea of Diwali as a time of peace, goodness, generosity, and most of all, as a time when an entire country lights up with hope.
Though fireworks are supposed to facilitate this by supposedly “driving away evil,” it often feels like they’re causing more evil themselves.
As we sometimes ponder with Christmas, I wonder if there is a recipe for Diwali that might make it feel even more like what its supposed to represent.
Firecraker-free zones (such as traffic-filled roads), firecracker-free hours of the day, firecracker confiscation from the the devilish teenagers who set them off right outside your window—what do you guys think?