Diwali (part 1)

We generally skype my in-laws almost every Sunday.  Which was handy because I needed to ask them about Diwali.

I found Lighting a Lamp:A Diwali Story  on Ellie’s bookcase.  I guess I bought it ages ago.  I’ve gone on a few book shopping sprees looking for Indian characters/subjects for kids.  E is only getting old enough for them now, but I’ve forgotten individual titles/topics.  Luckily I found it when I was reorganizing her bookcase.  It’s one of those books which says something like we do this thing which is traditional, we do that things which is traditional without the context of why.

I read this wikipedia entry and walked away feeling more confused that I was when I started reading it.  In part because I’ve never heard my in-laws call Gujarati’s North Indian and they aren’t South Indian.  We’re not Hindu.  My mother-in-law is Jain, but we don’t really talk about that part of her life (apart from her being vegetarian-my FIL isn’t).

I wanted to start some traditions, but I had no clue which ones were relevant, or why, or how to “do Diwali correctly.”

So I asked.

My in-laws gave me some information, which my father in law then followed up with a helpful email (which I’m paraphrasing in the quote below)

The new year starting on Wednesday is Vikram Samvat 2069 or 2069th year of Indian calendar.


  • New year greeting is Sal Mubarak … Happy NewYear
  • Wear new clothes, visit elders to wish them Sal Mubarak, eat sweets.
  • First day of the month Kartak. The name of the day is Bestu Varsh (the year is seating- signifying start of new year)

Tuesday is Diwali – festival of lights ….

  • Firecrackers,
  • Rangoli (decorate the entrance with colored powder)
  • eat sweets
  • have small oil lights.

Dhan Teras (13th) is on Sunday –

  • close the books
  • Laxmi Puja or Ganesh Puja.

Monday is Kali Chaudash (14th),

  • celebrate goddess Kali for victory of good over evil.

I also found The Story of Diwali at Bookaburra in United Square.  It does a great job of simplifying the story of Rama and Sita (from the Ramayana) into a kid-friendly story (warning for small/easily scared kids–there’s killing and demons-but good triumphs), which is theoretically the origin of the holiday and the tradition of diyas.  But my father in law is quick to point out that

the story about Rama and Sita is not clearly related to these dates because their existence was at least 4-5 thousand prior to beginning of the Vikram Samvat (year one.)

This is a bit different from Christmas or Easter, which as a Catholic, I was raised to believe that the events happened ON THAT DATE (although as an adult skeptic and a historian I can give you a very long lecture as to why, even given the historical Jesus, the dates are hogwash).

So, with all of that in mind, we selected and began some new family traditions.

We put up Diwali decorations, including decorations of Ganesh and Laxmi up in our home (pictures of that tomorrow)

We went to the Diwali Bazaar in Little India to pick up diyas (lamps), a new outfit for Ellie, some sweets to bring to our hosts tomorrow, and some sparklers.  Inspired by a friend, Ellie begged for mendhi, and I will totally confess to bribing her with the promise of it in exchange for good behavior.  I have zero shame over this–it worked (and the Diwali Bazaar was pure wall to wall madness–people shouting in megaphones to get you to come to their stall instead of their neighbors stall, tons of people–something that has to be experienced to fully understand)

She was very good, so we stopped at the first mendhi set-up we saw.  Ellie was over the moon when they offered her different colors to pick from (news to me-I’ve only ever heard of/gotten the traditional mendhi) and told me it was fast-dry-only need to sit still for 5 minutes (also new to me–and a huge relief–I was having daymares as to how I’d get her to sit still long enough for it to stain without smudging).  After she got her mendhi done, I gave in to temptation and had the top of one of my hands done (I need the palm free and useable if need be, and I needed the other hand to steer the stroller).  I got the traditional kind, so I’ll put a picture of mine in tomorrow’s post.

E got pink and blue on one hand and pink and green on the other.

We read the Story of Diwali book as a family (well, until Rhi got tired and crying–E and I finished it while Ravi soothed Rhi), which dovetailed nicely into lighting the diyas (candles in clay pots) as the legend wraps with people lighting those candles and putting them in the windows to celebrate Rama and Sita’s return.

Lighting a diya with Mommy’s help (you can see some of my mendhi, but it’s still orange and hasn’t darkened yet)

Tomorrow we’ll go to a party, say Sal Mubarak to our friends, wear new clothes (well, E and Rhi–I’ll get to do something better–I get to wear something I haven’t worn since I got pregnant), read the Light a Candle book, light some more diyas, and light sparklers.

Our evening in a nutshell

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