My Favorite Ways to Celebrate Diwali

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How do we celebrate Diwali? Diwali, often called the Festival of Lights, celebrates a story of good triumphing over evil. It’s the largest festival in India, my husband’s home country. 

We’ve celebrated Diwali in San Francisco, Sydney and northern Virginia. This year, we’re celebrating with my mother-in-law in Bombay, where my husband grew up.

India is known for its bright colors, but this trip has been even brighter and shinier. Everywhere we look, we see lights, carts full of rangoli powders and long lines at sweet shops. Clothing and jewelry stores advertise “festive season” sales. Twinkling strings of lights line high-rise apartment balconies. Treats show up unannounced at the door, gifts from friends and neighbors. (Or favorites that we ordered. You caught me.)

The date for Diwali is set by the Hindu lunar calendar, typically falling somewhere around the end of October or the beginning of November. For 2022, it’s Monday, October 24.

I love a good holiday, and Diwali has much to offer. Here are a few of my favorite ways to celebrate Diwali.

1. Turn on all the lights

colorful tealights on a kitchen counter
Colorful candles from our 2020 Diwali at home in Falls Church. (Becky Bowman)

Welcome the goddess Laxmi to your home by turning on all the lights. If she visits, it is believed, she’ll bless you with wealth.

Tradition calls for a diya — a small dish of ghee (clarified butter) lit with a wick, just like the emoji 🪔 — to be placed in each room for Diwali. For safety, we use LED tealights and our regular electric lamps (use caution with batteries around kids). We also light a few candles while we eat our Diwali feast. 

Feeling extra festive? I usually put some of our Christmas lights up for Diwali. Bonus: It’s an early start on the upcoming season.

2. Eat sweets 

a besan laddoo in front of a plate of fruit
This besan laddoo was a gift from neighbors.

Mithai is to Diwali as cookies are to Christmas. The sweets are made, purchased, gifted, set out at parties and happily devoured. 

As with Christmas cookies, the type of mithai varies from region to region and tradition to tradition. A few I love:

  • Besan laddoos — These round sweets, about the size of a ping pong ball, are made from chickpea flour, ghee and sugar, flavored with cardamom and cashews. When they’re done well, they melt in your mouth. 
  • Gujiyas — Sweet deep-fried half-moon-shaped dumplings, made with dried fruit and a ricotta-like filling.
  • Kaju katlis — These triangle-shaped slices are made with sugar, ghee and cashews that have been ground to a fine powder. They’re often topped with silver foil. The result is a delicate and gentle sweet to which I am hopelessly addicted — my gateway to all other Indian sweets

3. Visit friends and family

Diwali is a time to be with loved ones. When my in-laws visited Sydney during Diwali, my mother-in-law cooked up delicious fried foods for our feast. We lit candles and decorated the doorway and wore colorful clothes. In Northern Virginia, we waved sparklers with cousins and reveled in how adorable the kids looked in Diwali outfits. 

This Diwali, we’re soaking up precious time together, after pandemic years of being forced apart. If there’s someone you’ve been missing, here’s your excuse

diwali sydney-3
diwali 2019
diwali 2019-2

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