How to Celebrate Diwali With Your Kids

Thursday, October 16, 2008

As Devis with Babies in the 1.5- or second-generation category, our knowledge of Indian culture is pretty random. We may be able to remember the ingredients of herbal cold remedies our moms gave us, or know the names of the major Hindu gods, but we'll have no idea what that mystery spice in our kitchen is, or what exactly happens in the Ramayana.

So celebrating holidays can be a crapshoot. I have some vague recollections of how we used to celebrate Diwali. I remember a puja my dad used to do involving gold coins, kumkum and water that was apparently from the Ganga. I remember my mom making tons of of "sweetmeats" in the weeks beforehand. And the best memory of all: On Diwali night, I remember going through the house switching on the lights, and not being scolded, as I was every other night, for not turning them off.

Now, suddenly, I find myself responsible for my daughter's future memories of Diwali. It’s a major holiday, and I want her to experience it in some way. But I’m not going to do a puja because I have no idea how to, and I definitely am not making any "sweetmeats."

So, as I often do when I am perplexed about decisions in life, I turned to the Internet and cobbled together this list.

Ten Insta-Culture Ways to Celebrate Diwali With Your Child!
1. Going along with the Diwali theme of lights, string Christmas lights up outside your home. It will make the neighbors wonder.

2. Buy diyas, available at all Indian stores right now, and light them around your home or in a particular room. Then, open up the doors and windows. The significance of this is apparently that if Lakshmi sees your home lit up and open invitingly, she will enter, thereby gracing you with prosperity for the year to come. (And who couldn’t use a little prosperity right now?)

3. Better yet, make your own diyas with your child. Use self-hardening clay to create a little bowl. Glue a tea light inside of it, and use paint to decorate it. Fairly simple.

4. Spread the wealth: Donate to a charity, whether it's local or in India. Involve your child in deciding which charity to donate to, and make it a yearly family tradition.

5. Have a gambling party. It's done all over India, since this is meant to be a particularly auspicious time of the year, paisa-wise.

6. Create a rangoli design with your little one. In India these designs are done at the front door using colored chalk powder, colored rice and spices. Since I have no idea where to buy colored chalk powder, and I'm not going to food-color rice anytime soon, I'll probably just use some colored paints, and rip off the rather nice rangoli designs here.

7. Exchange small gifts with friends. Last year, my friend gave little diyas to her friends' children, personalized with their names. She also got us a children's book about Diwali. I was super impressed.

8. When your kid asks you, "Mommy, what is Diwali?" don't get panicked -- whip out a book! Here are some more Diwali books for children.

9. Buy sparklers and watch your kid squeal in delight. If you're adventurous, and if your local area allows it, buy other kinds of legal fireworks and set them off. I will stick to sparklers since I'd rather not burn the house down.

10. Hang out with other devis who know what they're doing. Then, copy them. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

How do you plan to celebrate Diwali?
Anonymous said...

We usually celebrate with a huge dinner party and an all night gambling party. Teen paati, whiskey and naasta. it's the best holiday of the year.

though i still struggle with how to teach my daughter about the holiday. it's tough, but ui may just have to take her to india for the full experience.

Jaime said...

thanks for the ideas monica! so...when are we going to start implementing some of these traditions together?

monica said...

let's do it! maybe we could have DwB diwali party!

Anonymous said...

Hi. These are great tips. I have been enjoying your blog, and I love how it makes me laugh, especially the comic. I like lots of it but it's difficult to navigate, have you considered adding a search function?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these suggestions! I'm going to try them out with my son this Diwali. I found a "recipe" for making self hardening clay for the diya project:

What you need:

4 cups of flour

1 1/2 cups of salt

1 1/2 cups of water

What you do:

Mix the salt and flour in a bowl.

Add water gradually to form a ball.

Knead (pound, roll and pull) until it no longer falls apart.

Do your project and allow it to dry at room temperature for approximately 2 days (more for larger or thicker projects).


Store any unused clay in a sealed bag in the fridge. Allow it to warm to room temperature before you use it again.

KJP said...

this is a really good list. does anybody know where you can find organized diwali parties? i want to attend something with my kids but have no idea where to go.

Diwali Greetings and Wishes said...
Supriya said...

MAN! I wish I had found your blog before the Diwali party we had last night! Would love tips for other holidays, I am always at a loss with how to connect our American life with our Indian heritage and end up doing things like putting up a "Diwali tree"!

Anonymous said...

Great ideas!

I put up a Diwali tree too-- with framed pictures of Diwali themes like gods, goddesses, diyas, rangoli, etc.

Then, at Christmas, we just add the other ornaments.

sandhya said...

I loved this post. Though I don’t have those mommy duties yet, I could appreciate the second-gen challenges of passing on a festival and its traditions. (My nephew is almost two and recent conversations with my sister have been a lot about how to start making his memories of Diwali. She ended up giving him his very own pooja thali on his high chair so that he could sprinkle his own rice, water, flower petals, etc. Tres cute!)

Book fiend that I am, the following suggestions in Devis with Babies’s “Ten Insta-Culture Ways to Celebrate Diwali With Your Child” especially stood out to me, :

7. Exchange small gifts with friends. Last year, my friend gave little diyas to her friends’ children, personalized with their names. She also got us a children’s book about Diwali. I was super impressed.

8. When your kid asks you, “Mommy, what is Diwali?” don’t get panicked — whip out a book! Here are some more Diwali books for children.

Great idea. Only thing is that I think there are some wonderful books that got ignored in the above links.

I've posted a roundup here of what I consider a more timely and rounded list of great Diwali books for kids. Many of them , really, can also be read at any time of the year since hey all touch on themes of celebration, sharing, festivals, and cultural tradition.

monica said...

Thanks Sandhya for these great book ideas! I feeling like getting ALL of them for my daughter. Thanks also to our reader for the self-hardening clay recipe, and I love the Diwali tree idea! (Though how does it not dry out by Christmas time, do you use a plastic one?) KJP, try your local Indian newspaper or magazine(India Abroad, India West, India Currents etc.) which usually has long listings of local Indian events. and Sulekha may also have listings.

Diwali Gifts said...


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Anonymous said...

im going to love doing all of them with my mum i think i know more about divali than her lol realy good blog

Anonymous said...

Loved the diwali post!! Xoxo


keda said...

Great post! Inspired my to write one of my own (I'm a gori married to an Australian Desi) because I want my kids to have some experience of their dad's culture:

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