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I’ve found a way to celebrate Diwali and Halloween

How one family came to terms with celebrating the festival of lights while surrounded by ghosts and goblins.

I’ve found a way to celebrate Diwali and Halloween

Photo: Courtesy of Kinjal Dagli-Shah

Every October, as the leaves turn and pumpkins begin to appear on neighbourhood porches, my kids, 8 and 5, begin to talk excitedly about Halloween. It’s a signal for me to dig out the box in my basement marked “Diwali stuff” and gently remind them that there’s another reason to rejoice.

Diwali, followed by the Hindu New Year, is based on the lunisolar calendar, which means that the festival date changes each year but usually falls between late October and early November. Often, like this year, it coincides with Halloween, a North American tradition that, in many ways, is the antithesis of what Hindus believe to be the spirit of Diwali.

Known as the festival of lights, the five-day celebration encompasses many traditions and festivities, including offering prayers, dressing in colourful clothing, cleaning the house, lighting diyas (earthen lamps), setting off fireworks and gorging on a feast of savoury snacks and mithai (Indian desserts). My husband and I grew up in India, so we took part in these traditions with great fervour and hoped we could recreate some of those fond memories with our Canadian children. But up against Halloween, Diwali really has to fight for my kids’ attention.

When our children were younger, we would offer neutral costumes, such as giraffes and lambs, so we didn’t have to worry about them wearing black, a colour that is associated with darkness and avoided during Diwali. We would limit our Halloween decorations to jack-o’-lanterns and painted pumpkins and stay away from skulls and ghosts. These small measures made it easier to transition to or from Diwali, depending on whether the festival took place before or after Halloween.

But now that our kids are older (and more opinionated), it’s getting harder to blend the two holidays. After years of avoiding skeletons, spider webs, emaciated body parts and yellow “Dare to enter” tape, they now coexist with diyas and rangolis (coloured-sand artwork), which signify an earnest welcome to visitors, on our porch.

This year, my eight-year-old daughter wants to dress up as a vampire. Last year, she insisted on wearing a dark phantom costume. While we talk to her about the significance of not wearing black during Diwali, we also don’t want to take away her fun and freedom of self-expression at Halloween.

To drum up some excitement for Diwali, we let the kids light a few sparklers. And, though the Indian mithai often fades into oblivion in the face of a bagful of candy, we keep them out as options.

Still, there are some traditions that my kids have really embraced. It is considered auspicious to begin the new year with a sweet start, and my daughter has already developed a palate for it. There are several mythological stories around how Diwali came to be celebrated, and my five-year-old son, who loves stories of kings and 10-headed demons, enjoys them as much as tales of haunted houses and scarecrows.

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But it’s the spiritual meaning of Diwali that is the hardest to create in the face of a contrasting tradition like Halloween. Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil and symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, or knowledge over ignorance. Halloween, on the other hand, makes a day out of devils, darkness and dressing up. With this in mind, we have to remind ourselves that, in our family, the motive behind observing both traditions is to have fun and make memories. And in a world with increasing choices, we choose to not choose one over the other.

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