Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Diwali, American Style

Credit: Ramesh NG
By Supriya Savkoor 

In a dozen countries from Mauritius to Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname to Fiji, and Myanmar to Guyana, the Indian holiday of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is an official national holiday. In the United States, where I grew up and still live, Diwali has grown from a quiet home affair to a festival celebrated in schools, offices, and party halls in nearly every major metropolis from coast to coast.

While the date of the festival of lights varies each year, it always falls between mid-October to mid-November. When my kids’ attended Montessori school a few years ago, our hearts were full when their American teachers greeted us at the door in saris for this most celebrated Hindu festival, salvar kameezes for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and in full crazy costume for Halloween—all within the same week! (Then celebrated Chinese New Year a month after the Gregorian one a few months later.)

Credit: Ethan Lofton
This year, we celebrate Thanksgiving only one week after Diwali. And since we'll be hosting Thanksgiving at our place this year, it seems only fitting that we celebrate Diwali while the whole extended clan is gathered, especially since all of the kids have been raised outside India. Thursday night, we start with our usual fare, a traditional Thanksgiving feast with turkey and all the trimmings, alongside a traditional, mostly vegetarian (but not entirely) Indian feast of mutton curry, paneer masala (spicy Indian cheese curry…or something to that effect), a lentil curry (dal) with spinach, and a cauliflower stirfry. I love that everyone gets to choose their feast of choice that night—or combine options, for those so daring. Imagine a dollop of cranberry sauce on the same plate as a curry dish (yum), a syrupy gulab jamun lolling against a slice of pumpkin pie. Only in America, right?

The following night is the real treat. None of the dozen or so kids who’ll be at our place have ever celebrated Diwali in India, and so we're excited to treat them to our own variation of the centuries-old tradition. We’ll have all the ingredients: traditional attire, sparklers, an exchange of gifts, cocktails (no, seriously), poker. And for the kids, craft time and age-appropriate games. I can’t wait.

Credit: Arne Hückelheim
It’s all tradition but then some. The cocktail party, for example, features a cheese fondue, meatballs braised in mint and honey, and a couple Italian appetizers. The gifts feature characters from Winnie the Pooh and Batman. The sparklers may include (if I get to vote) lanterns we let go of, only to watch float up into the sky (instead of putting diyas, like the one pictured at left, afloat in the river). Later, or maybe earlier, depending on how tired we all are, a show put on by the kids. A modern retelling of the Ramayana, for Diwali commemorates Lord Ram’s return to his kingdom after 13 long years in exile and after, yes, more than a few adventures.

Again, I can’t wait.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Diwali to you and yours!

Credit: ISAL Indian Students Association Leuven (Belgium)

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