As an American with few Indian acquaintances, I knew little about Diwali. In my ignorance, the lighting of candles, the food, the sending of cards, and the gathering of family and friends caused me to view it as something akin to our Christmas celebrations.
In reality, Diwali is closer to a New Year’s type celebration. Though it has its origins in a number of harvest festivals, the celebration represents a symbolic victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. The festival typically takes place over five days, starting on Tuesday, November 2nd with Dhanteras, and ending on the 6th with Dwitiya. The high point of the celebration is really Amavasya, which takes place this year on Thursday, November 4th.
Amavasya is significant as it coincides with the new moon – the darkest night of the month. Therefore, Indians celebrate the festival by lighting diyas (clay lamps fueled by sesame oil) and welcoming the Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, into their homes. They don new clothes, light firecrackers, exchange sweets, and enjoy delicious food. I’m told that Indians have a weakness for sweets in all their shapes and forms (maybe that makes me part Indian!?!).
Dhanteras, the first day of the festival, is considered a particularly lucky day to make new beginnings or invest in new businesses. People generally buy gold and silver jewelry or buy new utensils as a symbolic gesture to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into their homes.
It is believed that purchasing any new item brings good luck. Hence, you will often see markets in India bustling with customers on Dhanteras and lighting diyas all night to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into their homes.
On behalf of all of my American compatriots, I wish our Indian peers a blessed, healthy, and prosperous Diwali! With the light of beautiful diyas and holy chants, may happiness and prosperity fill your life forever!