Quick! What the Hell is Diwali?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | November 1, 2013 | 16 comments

Here’s the Diwali installment of Relax, It’s Just God’s beloved* Holiday Cheat Sheet, a series offering parents the quick and dirty run-down on major religious holidays, so that they might come across as intelligent beings to their kids. I’m sure you guys remember all this stuff from last year, but rest assured, Diwali is just as cool and fun as it has always been. Why? (C’mon, you don’t remember this?) Let me count the ways:

1. Fireworks

2. Bollywood music

3. Poker

4. Cool back story

5. Curry

6. Candles

7. Shopping

 * too strong?

Holiday: Diwali

Pronounced: Di-VAH-li

AKA: “Festival of Lights”

Religion Represented: Hinduism

Date: Corresponds with the new moon that falls between the 7th and 8th months of the Hindu lunisolar calendar. In 2013, the date is Nov. 3

Celebrates: The Hindu New Year

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Diwali is a 10.

Star of the Show: Lord Rama

The Back Story: Diwali celebrates the conquest of good over evil. There are lots of legends of how it began, but one of the most common is that Lord Rama — said to be an incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu — was exiled from his father’s kingdom for 14 years. While in exile, Rama’s wife was kidnapped, precipitating an epic journey to rescue her and defeat her demon captors. Following Rama’s victory, he returned to the kingdom to be crowned king and, eventually, emperor. His rule was a time of joy, peace and prosperity, and his people marked the happy homecoming by lighting rows of clay lamps, setting off fireworks and celebrating with family.

Associated Literary Passages: This story of Lord Rama is part of the Ramayana, one of the longest poems ever written and a “national epic of India.”

The Food: There is not a set menu for Diwali, but dinner tends to be elaborate and vegetarian: curry, samosa, paneer, sabzi, rice and naan, among other yummies.  And sweets are a necessity, so plenty of desserts.

The Fun: Diwali celebrants often give their houses a deep cleaning, decorate their front doors and leave their wallets out during parties to encourage Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to enter the home and bring them — what else? — wealth. They also light firecrackers, dance to Bollywood music and play poker late into the night. Oh and also? You are required — REQUIRED — to wear new clothes. Sign me up.

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Consider throwing a Diwali Party! Tell the Wikipedia-version of the Rama story, program your Pandora to Classic Bollywood, and let your child decorate the front door. Light as many candles as you can find (remember it’s a festival of lights!), serve Indian food and sweets (recipes here), and break out the playing cards for a few games of Go-Fish or, depending on the age/gambling penchant of the child, a little Five-Card Stud.

Originally appeared Oct. 26, 2011



16 comments

  1. jgirl says:

    hey im from india. and no, u cant hav a diwali weekend…thats y diwali is annual in india. o and diwali is more than candles…im talkin bout glowsticks, firecrackers, fireworks, rockets, phooljadhis, etc. etc.
    coz now diwali is more about dhamaka(blast) and fireworks…
    sad for the birds n the fact that many indians have forgotten the true meaning but, eh, its fun :)

  2. Ha! So cute. Mostly-Approving Mom Disapproves a Little. I don’t quite have the nerve yet to tell my mom I blog.

  3. Tim Grobaty says:

    I’ll tell what I’ve got going on tonight: fuck-all, that’s what. I’m leaving my wallet outside.

  4. Leanna says:

    I think we’ll just have to celebrate a belated Diwali next week, which will work out well since we’ll also be studying 18th century Indian in history. Thanks for the idea!

  5. Katie says:

    This is so awesome and motivating. I would TOTALLY break out a last minute Diwali celebration tonight except that I’m working…..

    I mean, who doesn’t like fireworks, candles and Indian food! Can we celebrate a Diwali weekend?

  6. Jenny says:

    Can you please put the holiday cheat sheet on an easy to access place on your site, so that when I have kids I can easily access? Useful stuff! (Also, Why My Husband Would Love Diwali: You play POKER late into the night!)

  7. Nancy Thomas says:

    Loving this one, sans profanity. 8-)

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