This week, we celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali. Diwali is also known as the festival of light. You might have noticed some Indian families, including ours, have already put up lights and decorations before December. That is because we are celebrating Diwali. Although Diwali is a Hindu festival, all religions in India celebrate Diwali as a major festival.

The story of Diwali follows King Rama, Queen Sita, and Laxshmana on their journey to a dangerous forest and the defeat of the ten-headed demon Ravana. Legend is that clay lamps were lit at the end of their exile to welcome the king, the queen, and Laxshmana back and to illuminate their path. Those lamps were called diyas. During the five days of Diwali, we light these little clay lamps in our house to honor their return and the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.

On the first day of Diwali, we wake up, take a bath, get oil massages, get rest, and do puja. Puja means a type of prayer we offer to our gods and goddesses. We prepare for Diwali by first cleaning our house thoroughly.

It is believed that the goddess Laxshmi only visits the house that is clean and well lit. The goddess cannot be properly welcomed in a dark and messy house. So we switch on all the lights, light lamps, and keep a window or a door open.

People draw elaborate patterns of colored sand on their doorstep called rangoli (the word rangoli comes from “rang”, which means “color” in Hindi), make delicious sweets and snacks (kaju katli, ladoo, jalebi), and burst colorful firecrackers. Since the recent COVID-19 pandemic hit the planet, Diwali has been different. But that doesn’t mean there’s no more Diwali! We visited the Indian stores in Jersey City, something we missed last year, and picked out decorations for our home and ingredients for our Diwali cooking. The shops looked so colorful and inviting, bursting with marigold flowers and lanterns in every color.

Last year, we exchanged sweets and gifts with our friends and family from a safe distance. This year, we will be meeting indoors and celebrating. My parents make a big feast and we help them set the table for Diwali. Some families play card games after the Diwali dinner. My mom always ends the Diwali feasts with tea and lets me have some sips as a treat.

My favorite part of Diwali is definitely bursting firecrackers, getting an oil massage, and munching on my favorite Indian snacks. My brother and I love to draw rangoli on the floor and we often end up making a mess. The joy is in the process of making the Rangoli, as my mother often talks about making Rangoli patterns outside her house in India. I can see that my mother misses her country during these times and tries to keep in touch with her old life and tradition. I am proud to know my heritage, celebrate, and share my cultural traditions with my friends here in Hoboken, New Jersey.

If you know any Indian families, wish them a very happy Diwali and invite yourself over for some tea and snacks!

Kabir Sahu (Age 9 1/2)