Diwali (also known as the festival of lights) is a time of prayer, community and commemoration for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. Depending on the Hindu lunar calendar, it’s marked in either October or November and is one of the most auspicious holidays in India. (In 2021, those dates are November 2 to 6.) The festival is spread over five days, each having its own significance, and includes cleaning the home, offering prayers and connecting with loved ones. Whether celebrating with family in Canada or virtually with friends and neighbours, here’s how to make Diwali a memorable one.
1Jot down everything (literally, everything) you’ll need.
Advance preparation is crucial to ensure the five days of celebration are executed without a hitch, says Sheetal Ajwani, mom to four-year-old Yuvi. “I like to have everything in order a couple of weeks in advance,” she says. That means prepping an exhaustive shopping list that covers everything needed, from ingredients for sweet making to decorations and gifts.
“We maintain vegetarianism during those days, so I also plan out the meals to make things easier,” says Ajwani. Similarly, Radhika Halankar, mom to five-year-old Sanav, outlines all menus ahead of time. Her secret weapon? The freezer. “Any dish I can make in advance is prepared and frozen—and no one can tell the difference in taste,” she says. “I love to cook, but it isn’t humanly possible to cook multiple dishes every day.”
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2Break your cleaning into manageable chunks.
Cleaning is the biggest task best ticked off the list before the start of the festivities. “Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, resides in cleanliness,” says Ajwani. “So, the cleaner the house, the greater the amount of money that will come to you.” She counts baking soda and vinegar as part of her cleaning arsenal, which she notes makes an effective (yet gentle) solution to clean statues and murals in preparation for the Lakshmi pooja.
“Start cleaning slowly,” says Halankar. In the days leading up to Diwali, she breaks up the scrubbing and polishing tasks, which makes it an ongoing process but creates a more manageable workload. “You have to do what feels right for your home and what is comfortable to you,” she says. “It’s a big undertaking to do a deep clean so base it on your capacity, the help you may have and how much you want to do.”
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3Adopt special traditions that work for your lifestyle.
Having lived in Canada since 2006, Halankar has adapted the traditions she grew up with in Mumbai, India, while creating a few of her own with her son who was born in Toronto. “Sanav loves decorating so we make rangolis with fresh flowers and put candles everywhere to light up the house,” she says. “We also handmake Diwali cards together and mail them to friends and family well in advance, which we do for Christmas as well.”
Ajwani, who grew up in Dubai, UAE, has also put her own special spin on the celebration’s rituals. “On the first day, called Dhanteras, you worship the wealth you have and bring home silver, gold or bronze,” she explains. “Here in Canada gold is very expensive, so I buy a thali [plate] or a pan or wok made of metal (copper or bronze), which I will then use to make my Diwali sweets starting on the second day known as Chhoti Diwali.”
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4Source prepared foods and treats when possible.
Like many big celebrations, food plays a vital role with veritable feasts prepared for visiting guests. “Although I cook a lot, I try not to go overboard and do a mix and match,” says Halankar. “If I make the main course dishes, then the appetizers and desserts are ordered from an outside vendor or vice versa. It takes a big load off me because it’s impossible to do everything in addition to the cleaning and entertaining, which my husband and I do a lot of.”
The exchange of gifts and sweets between friends and neighbours as a sign of goodwill is also an important tradition. While both Ajwani and Halankar make popular treats like coconut burfi, kaju katli and kheer, they choose what’s easiest to whip up in the kitchen, saving time and effort. “Alternatively, we buy boxes of chocolates, like Quality Street, to exchange like we used to in Dubai,” says Ajwani. “Or we do little gift bags with drinks and snacks that were childhood favourites in India for my son, Yuvi, to share with his friends.”
You might also enjoy this gulab jamun recipe.
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5Enjoy a mix of virtual and in-person celebrations.
COVID-19 may have put a damper on large in-person gatherings, but it hasn’t changed the extended virtual celebrations to which Ajwani and Halankar are accustomed. “We match my parents’ time zone, which is usually the morning for us in Toronto, so we can do the Lakshmi pooja together,” says Ajwani. “Then we also perform the pooja on Canadian time. By connecting with others online it makes it feel like a bigger celebration.”
Similarly, Halankar devotes the morning hours on the big day to wishing her parents and in-laws over a Skype call. “We spend time chatting and wishing loved ones well, so we don’t feel so far away,” says Halankar. “If we host guests it includes dinner, lighting fireworks and playing cards. But entertaining can get stressful and expensive, so plan and prepare whatever is possible in advance. You have to feel good and happy when entertaining. Remember, only do as much as you can manage.”
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- Oprah Daily. What to Know About Diwali, and How It’s Celebrated.
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