Indian-American Diwali Traditions

I felt inspired to write a post about Diwali and originally wrote a post about only Diwali sweets.  But this time, I had more to say and it went beyond gastronomy.  This is a joint post with my buddy Sanket of Doc Bollywood, whose tunes I play in the background during every class I teach.

This is the first year in 15 years that feels truly Diwali-festive to me. Though we are not a religious family, we celebrate Diwali every year.  We also celebrate (from October through December) October birthdays, ACL, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Most years, celebrating Diwali has simply been a gesture of calling our immediate family members and a few friends and wishing them Happy Diwali.  In the past, if we were visiting Houston where our parents live, we might attend festivities at a temple, dine at an Indian restaurant and eat a few mithai.  And if we do visit, and perhaps even when we don’t, the house I grew up in is always decorated in crimson tones and gold fringe with candles aglow and hand-made Indian ornaments.  There is a wonderfully serene and content undertone to the ambience of the house.

This year, I felt like illustrating the grandeur of this holiday to my girls by celebrating it more as it is celebrated in India. Although our Halloween celebrations barely had finished, the kids colored rangoli (though on a computer and not on our sidewalk since it was raining), I cooked some halva, then applesauce, and my husband bought the children Diwali presents to open: new clothes, a family tradition in his house while growing up.  They kids didn’t find wrapped packages of salwar-kameez from Amarsons or the latest Bollywood flick. They found adorable winter dresses with Old Navy tags in pretty gift bags.

In Houston after a lovely dinner of roti/chappati and undhiyoo, a vegetable curry made of 15 different vegetables and chickpea flour and fenugreek dumplings, I was too satiated to devour the gulab jamun my Mom prepared.  Today, we wore our colorful silks (I in a kurta with my skinny jeans and my mom in a sari) and the girls opened more Diwali presents from their grandparents.  I called numerous relatives in India whom I don’t regularly get a chance to talk to after a lunch of black bean soup and cilantro chutney sandwiches.  Tonight, both sets of grandparents will delight in Diwali with their grandkids during a light home made dinner of ragada over aloo and sweet potato patties followed by those gulab jamuns, made into sundaes.  And tomorrow we’ll all go to the temple for food and festivities.

As the girls get older and understand more about where they really come from, especially after their first trip to India last winter, I become gradually more obsessed with retaining some of our Indian culture and heritage, but in keeping with our American culture.  We are, after all, both.  Happy Diwali!

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  1. says

    I agree with you on the desire to go full on with diwali so the kids get excited about it. This was the first year we went BIG — — the house was decorated, the lights up, rangoli, lots of homemade mithai and the kids were introduced to Diwali Claus for the first time. I even did a small celebration at my daughter’s preschool on diwali —

    My only hope is that as my kids get older they get to appreciate where they are from :)

    • says

      Rashmi, I loved your Diwali post! Looks like you and I had the same inclination about presenting Diwali to our kids as a “real” holiday! I did much of what you did, but didn’t make mithai and I really wish I had!! The diyas on your post look so adorable.

  2. Neel says

    wow! sounds like a perfect diwali!!!! i am gonna start cookin so def will be using ur recipes sister!!!!! keep the blog going….great idea:)

  3. Rajal says

    wow. your post really made me miss home. glad you guys are having such a fab time with your family. cherish it :-)
    food sounded awesome. please bring me back some leftovers! (btw. your naan pizza post made me hungry. those looked awesome!)

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