Celebrating Diwali with Children
As the generations progress, the essence of Diwali seems to get even more diluted, until what the holiday really stands for remains as faint pictures of what we have seen our elders do around the house. Especially for the Indian American community, who are already once removed from their own culture, this is the reality they face. It is important that everyone be acquainted with Diwali and its traditions, as this is one festival most Indian Americans want their children to know and celebrate.
Today, Diwali has become more of a social observance, instead of religious or spiritual. Parents often find it difficult to relay the true meaning and create the right intent about the festival. There are some simple ways to make Diwali relevant, enjoyable and meaningful to your children.
Children today are curious and purposeful. They want to know why something must be done, and the significance of it. Indulge them. Several stories and books are available to not only explain the history of Diwali, but also to educate them about the spiritual significance. Once they understand the history, they will partake in festivities more earnestly.
Make the Diwali puja a focus. Several CDs are available to assist you with the rituals, explanations, and descriptions of what needs to be done. This is a good way to include the puja in your celebration, even though you may not be informed enough to do it yourself.
Show your child the many symbols that are synonymous with Diwali. Let them help you shop and make some decorations and lights. These are simple craft activities suitable for all ages. Let younger children simply color or paint the lights and diyas. Indian stores are sure to stock them at this time of year. If your child is more creative, get them some air-drying clay and encourage them to make their own diyas in shapes of their choosing. Use their creations around the house, and proudly gift them to friends and family.
Always make sure the house is well lit during Diwali. This is when the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, is always at her benevolent best, and she is most readily attracted to bright, well-lit homes. Use strings of lights and diyas to decorate the windows and archways of your house. If you have a small altar at home, keep it clean and well-lit. To truly convey the importance of Diwali, it is important to let your children know that Diwali means as much to the Hindu community as Christmas does in America. Visible through brightly lit streets and heavily arranged sweets, Diwali is the most awaited celebration every year. It is customary for people to exchange greetings and sweets. Children also prepare interesting and colorful Diwali cards. You may even make this a family activity and encourage your children to make Diwali cards for family back home. This is a good chance to help them live the Diwali magic, and also get to know their families better.
Make Diwali a time to buy your children some traditional clothes. This is one excuse to get them to have at least one set. Let them choose their own color and style so it becomes more fun for them.
The rangoli is traditional and auspicious. Use powdered chalk, or simply some paints and colors to make exquisite designs. Although they seem very complex and intricate, they really are geometric designs worked on several layers. You can actually plan for this a few days in advance, and draw smaller rough sketches. This can be great fun and a wonderful bonding activity.
Sit down with your children and ask them to name their favorite Indian foods. Incorporate those items into the menu. This is also a good time to talk to them about traditional Diwali foods, and ask them to help with preparations.
Simple sweets can be made with their help, provided it is not too laborious an affair. Buy some Diwali firecrackers, without which the festival is just not complete. You can stick to some sparklers if you want to keep it safe and simple.
Diwali is incomplete without sharing. Ensure that you involve your friends and their families. Pay visits to them with some gifts so children can learn what it is to share in the joy. This is also time to think of those less fortunate. This is a good time to make charity a part of your life. Pick an organization or group your family would like to work with and take your children to share something with them. If you have any family back in India, this is an ideal opportunity to let your children talk to them and understand their family roots better.
Most people make a visit to the closest temple at this time. Try and arrange for a trip to the temple this Diwali, and you will be able to help your children relate to the festival better. They will also have a chance to meet many other families and children, and may even make some friends. Temples celebrate what is known as Annakut on Diwali, where about a hundred different dishes are offered as Prasad. Allow your children to understand that there is plenty more to vegetarian food than just salad and mashed potatoes. They are sure to develop renewed interest in all things Indian thereafter.
It may take some time and patience, but you are bound to see a difference. Most children will jump at the chance to do something novel and different. Once the celebration begins to have some meaning for them, you will find your children more enthusiastic, proactive and involved. They will start to form their own identity and will look forward to sharing their experiences with their friends of other orientations as well. Who knows, maybe in a few years Diwali will become an inclusive celebration where people of all origins will gather in your home to ignite the lamp of love!