Our guide to Diwali and gifting

Diwali 2022

Diyas (earthen lamps) lit during the festival. Photo: Udayaditya Barua | Unsplash

Diwali, often known as the Festival of Lights, is fast approaching (24 October), so we take a closer look at its origins, the meaning behind it, and some of the traditions, with Esha Chanda, who grew up celebrating the festival in India before moving to New Zealand, and also share a few gifting ideas for the festive season.

Diyas lit on the pavement, beautiful rangolis on the doorway, the aroma of sweet and savoury delicacies filling the air, and fireworks lighting up the sky – my earliest memory of celebrating Diwali is probably not too different to how I celebrate it today, in Aotearoa, far away from home in Mumbai. We still have the diyas (earthen lamps), we light up a few sparklers in the backyard, and while our attempt at the traditional delicacies isn’t as on point as mum’s, it’s all still nostalgic and joyful – a time to come together and share a piece of our cultural heritage.

Back home, Diwali (or Deepavali as it is known to many) is a flamboyant celebration. While predominantly considered a Hindu festival, it is, in fact, celebrated by other religions too, so while there is no single story behind the festival, tying them all together is the reminder of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and hope over despair.

The exact date of the festival changes every year, determined by the lunar calendar, but it usually falls in October/November and is observed by more than a billion people across India and its diaspora with feasts and fireworks, family gatherings, and prayers.

Diwali 2022

The festival is marked with feasts and fireworks
Photo (left): Ethan Hoover| Unsplash (right): Prchi Palwe | Unsplash

Diwali is perhaps best known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ – rows of diyas, lanterns, and candles lit up every house, every corner, and every street in India. There’s always a sense of anticipation leading up to the five-day festival, which also marks the start of the Hindu New Year. The house is swept and dusted, a feast cooked up in the kitchen, gifts are bought to be exchanged with friends and family, and, of course, the beautiful Indian dresses (traditionally – and still observed by many – it’s a norm to wear new clothes for each day of the celebration) – the long flowy skirts, delicate silk saris, hand-embroidered kurtas, all in dazzling hues of yellows, fuchsia, deep blues, and oranges, paired with gorgeous pieces of jewellery. There’s no better time to indulge in bright colours and experiment with fabrics and designs than during a festival that’s marked with so much vibrancy.

Diwali 2022

Diwali is the perfect time to indulge in bright colours
Photo (left): Geet C (right): Kunal Goswami | Unsplash

For those of us who can’t always be home for Diwali, we bring a piece of the festival with us to New Zealand. From hosting informal house parties over weekends to intimate family dinners, we come together to celebrate the culture we’re proud of.

Diwali will always remind me of home, and although I haven’t been home for the festival in seven years, during that time, we’ve formed our own community and started our own Diwali traditions here in Aotearoa.

So this year, when the festival falls on the long weekend (24 October), a bunch of us will meet, dress in our finest traditional attire, play music, devour delicious food, have hour-long FaceTime calls with mum, dad, uncles, aunties, and cousins – all in different time zones – and be grateful that we have each other.

Happy Deepavali | दिवाली की शुभकामनाएं

Diwali 2022

Rangolis are often drawn at the entrance of homes. Photo: Jyoti Singh| Unsplash

P.S: Gifting is a bit part of the festival so we’ve curated a list of some thoughtful gift ideas to treat your loved ones (or yourself). Images supplied.