Happy Late Diwali and Saal Mubarak to all of my Indian friends and family!
Yesterday was Diwali, and it came and went without much fanfare for us. My mother-in-law is out of town at the moment, and without her, we are sort of lost in observing the holiday. It is true, that though my husband and I try to keep Indian culture a part of our kids’ lives, we fail miserably at times. My mother-in-law is our tie Indian culture in so many ways, and just as I rely on her to supply us with roti and paneer throughout the week, I also rely on her to continue to hold our hands through Indian traditions. Her absence has left a hole here that I realize now, my husband and I need to work harder to fill.
When I first became immersed in my husband’s family traditions, I have to admit, I had never even heard of Diwali. Here I was, this young southern girl in an area where churches dotted nearly every street corner, faced with a new and mysterious holiday tradition that I truly did not understand. Indian family and friends explained to me that it is a celebration of lights, a time for prayer, and a time for family to gather together. Then, they dumbed it down for me even more into two words.
So much for the education of the ethnocentric American chick.
I was pleased to read today that President Obama recognized Diwali this year, by extending his well wishes to those who celebrate the holiday around the world. I know many Americans are still feeling the sting of last week’s election results, but whether or not you supported Obama with your vote, I think it is important to realize the importance of his gesture. Indians are becoming an increasing presence in the United States and, just as Jewish holidays and Christian holidays have been the main focus throughout the history of the country, perhaps a new awareness of Indian traditions are on the horizon. As the mom of five kids who are marginally enculturated in half of their family’s traditions, and as a person who is embarrassed by her ignorance of them, I welcome that awareness. Who knows, Diwali may become as mainstream as Christmas and Hannukah. (I wonder if stores will have big pre-Diwali doorbuster sales. Maybe that’s going a little too far).
As Thanksgiving nears and the Christmas season begins, I will be gearing up for giving my family the kind of holiday season that I grew up with. It begins with a huge Thanksgiving turkey and more side dishes than any family can finish in one day, followed by weeks of the kids writing and amending letters to Santa, asking for everything they see on TV commercials, and finally culminates with Christmas morning, when our entire family gathers together with coffee in hand, to watch the kids tear into their gifts. Family time means the most to me during the holidays. I think that the timing of Diwali is perfect, because if my husband and I try harder, we can include it into our lives (even when my mother-in-law decides to desert us for sunny Florida), and turn the entirety of fall and winter into a celebration of our family. Our kids will either grow up fleeing from us come every October or November because they are scarred by memories of the craziness of our large family gatherings, or they will keep coming back to us every year, cherishing the moments that we’ve all shared during our Indian sweets and sugar plum fueled extended holidays.
We’ll just have to make sure that the lit Diwali candles don’t burn down the Christmas tree.
Photo by Ravikiran Rao