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6 Ways to Incorporate Diwali Into Your Life

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 9.53.41 AMby Indu Partha, @indupartha

“Festival of Lights, huh? Oh! That’s like Hanukkah, right?” “Umm, yeah, kind of, not really…it’s only one day, and we’re Hindu and not Jewish and…”

Ugh. How did my son’s soccer coach not know anything about Deepavali?  I mean, he grew up in Long Island.  Surely he came across some Indians in NY?  Didn’t his kids come home with a coloring page of a diya? He’s a cop. The whole victory of good over evil concept would have resonated with him.

Conversations like this one (and I’ve had many) make me wonder where the very large community of Hindus in the U.S. went wrong.  Why do still so many people know nothing about Deepavali after nearly half a century of consistent Indian emigration to America? If I were to be honest, I would need to start with pointing a finger at myself. My kids are probably not that much more knowledgeable than the average Joe, and definitely less knowledgeable than the average Jagdish. If they had grown up in a more cosmopolitan city with a larger Indian population, things may have been different. I can’t change my past, but here are some tips that may help you make some impact in your own communities:

  1. Build up the holiday excitement at home early on. Talk about Deepavali weeks in advance, plan on what sweets to make, buy new clothes to wear, or plan a party. Build up the anticipation, just as you would for Christmas or a birthday.
  2. Educate your children from a young age about Deepavali.  Grandparents and other older relatives are great teachers. Books that tell the story of Deepavali make wonderful bedtime stories. Tell your kids how you and your family celebrated the holiday when you were younger.
  3. Inquire if your school has a cultural competency mission statement. Most schools these days do. Ask the administration if kids are taught about world cultures, holidays, and festivals.  If there is no program in place, step up. If not you, then who? Put together a talk about Deepavali that is age appropriate for your child’s class, along with a craft activity. Teach older kids how to drape a sari or how to make mithai, while younger kids would love to color pictures of a diya or a rangoli design,  or stick “Indian jewels” on a piece of colored cloth. Be aware that you will likely be asked to tone down the religious teachings, and focus on the festivities.
  4. Take the day off. Though we live in a predominantly Christian country, many cities actually have school vacation days for Jewish holidays, or may not give out homework on those days to allow the Jewish kids to celebrate with their families. It would seem appropriate to afford Hindus the same courtesy. Write to your school principal a month in advance, advising him/her that Deepavali is a major holiday for Hindus, and ask for the day off for your child or a homework excuse to allow time for a temple visit, family time, or a puja and dinner at home. A greater impact will be made if multiple members of your Indian community make the request at the same time.
  5. Give out boxes of sweets. If you don’t think Indian mithai will be a hit, go with cupcakes or cookies and give them to your friends, neighbors, and teachers with a printed card attached detailing the meaning of Deepavali. Who doesn’t love eating something sweet and getting educated at the same time?
  6. Donate books a book or two to your school library. And speaking of education…this may be the perfect time to donate a book or two on Hinduism to the school library and/or social studies teacher.

I have seen a lot of change for the better over the years as far as Indians coming together to help educate our friends and neighbors about our roots, traditions, religions, and customs. Let’s not drop the ball now.

Hope you all had a very happy Deepavali!

 

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