Ravi grew up with only one family tradition surrounding Diwali–eating a jalebi (to give the new year a sweet start). If we had stayed in the US, that would likely be the only Diwali tradition that the girls grew up with. We would have followed their lead, and as Boston doesn’t have a huge Indian community that we were part of or any sort of public acknowledgement of Diwali, the jalebi would be the extent of our traditions.
Ironically, moving to Singapore is what gave us the opportunity and motive to create family traditions for Diwali.
Diwali is a public holiday in Singapore
In the US, Diwali isn’t a widely acknowledged holiday. It’s not a day that children get off from school or grown-ups from work.
Now, this Diwali, I am heartened by how my daughter embraces her Indian-American heritage and by how different my daughter’s America is from mine. Diwali is celebrated at the White House. The television show “The Office” had an entire episode dedicated to Diwali where the non-Indian characters were more knowledgeable than the clueless Indian one played by Mindy Kaling, the writer and actress. And (in true recognition) Diwali has been placed on the coveted New York City Alternate Side Parking calendar.(source)
However, despite these small advances, I think it would be hard for a family like ours–without a strong connection to India or Indian culture–to create Diwali traditions without support.
In Singapore, Diwali is a day where everyone is home. The girls learn about the holiday in school and do Diwali crafts. There are Diwali markets in Little India. There is no shortage of support for the holiday and opportunity to celebrate.
The Diwali markets are a resource for materials to celebrate
We go to the Diwali market to buy decorations, to get mendhi, and if we want to buy clothes there we can.
I go to Mustafa to pick up jalebi mix. I realize it’s not as good as making it from scratch, but it works for us.
This year we also purchased our first rangoli kit. If we moved back to the US, it would be great to give the kids sidewalk chalk and let them decorate the walkway or the driveway.
Our traditions have grown over time
In 2010 we went home in November and Ravi’s mom made jalebi. In 2011 I had a newborn and not much got acknowledged that holiday season.
So it was 2012 before we celebrated Diwali on our own. That year we read a book, lit diyas and got mendhi.
Last year Notabilia and I took our children to the Diwali exhibit at Gardens by the Bay and the girls celebrated in school for the first time that we knew about. We got mendhi and lit diyas once again.
This year, with Rhiannon getting bigger, we added a few new traditions to the ones we’ve been building. Each year it becomes a better and better holiday with traditions that the children (Elanor, at this point) are looking forward to.
Now, when/if we move home, we’ll make the effort to keep up our traditions.
Maybe we’ll take notice of Singapore’s National Day our first year back home. I’ll keep an eye out for CNY or Mid-Autumn festival opportunities, but would probably not go out of my way to do things to celebrate them at home. But we’ll keep Diwali. And we have Singapore to thank for that.