Thursday, November 5, 2015

How to Celebrate Diwali Abroad

Diwali is arguably the biggest Indian/Hindu holiday which is celebrated annually in October or November every year, as per the Hindu calendar. [To check the date of Diwali, see HERE]. Even though Diwali is a Hindu holiday, it is welcomed to be celebrated by all, irrespective of religion.

Why do we celebrate Diwali? It's a feel-good festival which symbolizes the victory of good over evil; light over darkness; hope over misery; and knowledge over ignorance. It also symbolizes getting back to the purity of your character - a higher plain of knowledge, one that is not masked by ignorance or despair. Diwali is all about feeling LIGHT - literally, and emotionally. It is also a big holiday for family togetherness, and starting over.

Goddess Lakshmi is a huge influence in Diwali, and using the lights in your home is said to bring good fortune from the Goddess herself, who is said to roam the Earth on Diwali night. Women in the household are also worshipped as embodiments of the Goddess Lakshmi on Diwali. For a married woman, Diwali is a festival of appreciation. And if it is your first time celebrating Diwali as a newlywed, you'll be pampered like crazy!

Diwali is a huge shopping holiday, much like Christmas in that regard. People clean their houses, apply fresh paint, and decorate it in a festive manner with flowers, religious icons, and rangoli. For Diwali, you must also wear new clothes - so the weeks leading up to Diwali will be filled with shopping. You can also get small gifts for your family, and for the visitors to your home. It is also auspicious to buy big purchases like gold in the Diwali season.

There is nothing like celebrating Diwali in India, but many of us who live abroad are unable to go to India for various reasons. It is smack in the middle of school/college season in the West, which means we can't take off from school. It is also high season for travel to India, which makes flights and accommodation expensive. For many of us, we feel bad that we can't go, so we have to celebrate Diwali in the West in the best way we can.

A lot of people don't know anything about Diwali here. The average Canadian or American will only know a limited amount about it, and only if they have Indian friends. In recent years, the Indian communities have been better at reaching out to non-Indians to celebrate Diwali by hosting cultural events around the cities and inviting non-Indians to join in on the festivities.

For the spouse of a desi, Diwali is something that you should learn to celebrate because it's the most important festival. It's especially important if your spouse is living abroad and separated from their family - they may feel homesick around Diwali. It is also very important for mixed Indian kids to celebrate this festival and have these memories and traditions.

If you're a foreign woman who is learning about Indian culture, finding a way to celebrate Diwali in your own way is important.

You can celebrate Diwali in your own home with family; or you can host a small party with friends. A potluck is a fun thing to do with friends as well. You can also go to the local Hindu temple, or to any local Diwali cultural events.

How to Prepare for Diwali:

A few weeks before:
- pick out some new unworn clothes OR buy some new clothes (preferably Indian attire)
- meal-planning for the Diwali feast
- figure out the lighting you want (diya, tealight candle, candle, paper lantern, Christmas lights) and buy it in bulk, if needed
- buy a new decoration annually (new idol, diya, serving bowl, lantern, pooja thaali)
- buy small gifts for any planned visitors (nuts, dry fruits, chocolates, diya's)
- buy fireworks (optional)
- get ideas for Rangoli designs online
- check if your city has any Diwali celebrations nearby and write down the dates on your calendar

Week of Diwali:
- buy flowers
- buy groceries
- pressure cook dal and freeze
- make chutneys
- deep clean the house and start to decorate
- prepare a pooja corner with your personal Gods (North-East corner of the home)
- invite your guests

Day before Diwali:
- prepare sweets
- chop the vegetables & store in fridge
- make Raita
- set a new tablecloth on the dining table
- set up the rangoli
- mehendi on hands/feet

Day of Diwali:
- oil your hair and have a light snack of coffee/toast, as well as feeding the kids a small breakfast
- take a bath, dress up in new clothes & participate in pooja
- cook a big brunch
- visit a local Hindu temple with a flower offering for the Gods
- cook a big dinner
- at sunset, light all the diya's in the house
- eat a big dinner and dessert
- burst fireworks if you have a back yard (optional)

***If Diwali falls on a weekday (ie. a Wednesday) you can cook a big dinner for that day, and then celebrate it properly on the first available weekend before or after (Saturday/Sunday). If Diwali falls on a weekend, or another holiday day (this year it falls on Remembrance Day/Veterans Day, so kids will be off from school) you can celebrate it all on one day.***

Types of decorations for Diwali:


A rangoli is a circular, symmetrical impermanent design that you can put at the entryway of your home. Rangoli's can be done in colored chalk, colored sand, and/or flower heads.

If you have a driveway, you can do a rangoli design with chalk in different colors, if it's not raining. If the weather is bad, and you have a covered porch, you can put it there. If you are in an apartment building, you can put something small outside the door, or use a rangoli-style hanging wreath on the door. You can also put a rangoli as a centrepiece inside the home on a visible table. Rangoli's are often nicely accented with diya's indoors.


Traditionally, diya's are used with vegetable oil and string for a wick, usually a clay or brass structure. If you don't have a diya, you can use an assortment of candles or tealight candles. You can also use ornamental string lights that you can re-use for Christmas time. Another option is using Asian paper lanterns. Always remember - the more lights, the better!

Religious Iconography

Since Diwali is a religious festival, you can set out all your idols of  Gods & Goddesses, adorned with flowers and other offerings. The types of Gods that you display will depend on your personal preferences and/or the deities that your Indian spouse's family worships. For example, it could be Lakshmi, Ganesh, Saraswati, Vishnu, Shiva, etc.

**If you live near a river or stream, you can also set some diyas off into the river for prosperity**


If you have children, you can get them involved by letting them help decorate, design a rangoli, pick out their new outfits, and help make the sweets. It is important to keep children involved so they enjoy the process...and also help you out!

And remember, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Diwali! Just have fun and eat LOTS!!!


Dear readers, how do you celebrate Diwali abroad?



  1. Actually there are parts of India (Kerala, North-East) where among Hindus, Diwali is not a tradition at all. In my family, it is not celebrated, and no one misses it.

  2. What a Beautiful post! My husband and I Love Diwali and everything it represents~Thank You for such a beautiful posting!

    1. Thank you Tracy :) Glad you liked it!

  3. My family also doesn't really care about diwali. They make some sweets and light candles but nothing crazy, no shopping or gifts or visitors. Ganpati is much more celebrated.

    1. Yes, your partner is from Mumbai, right? Ganesh Chaturthi is much bigger there!

  4. My husband also doesn't celebrate Deepevali anymore, he celebrates Pongal later on. He told me his family used to light the house every night for one moth before the day of Deepevali. Now it's funny because we had lights and flowers for Halloween (couldn't find a pumpkin).

    Just a question about rangoli : do you do that outside your door in Canada ? I have often been tempted to do some, but since we live in a big city, I don't dare do it. And also, are you not using rice flour for you rangolis ? It is traditional and environment friendly... (Pad)

    1. I like to use basic sidewalk chalk, and I do it outside at the front pavement, in front of the apartment. However I did not do it this year because we were sick and it was raining.

  5. Such a lovely list. I am trying to get things done for next week.
    Diwali is my favourite for the lights, fireworks and rangoli.
    Happy Diwali in advance.

    1. Thank you Prithi :) Happy belated Diwali

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. This is the first year in six years that my hubby will not be home for Diwali and he has been feeling blue about it. This makes me want to go that extra step to make it a special holiday despite traveling. :) Happy Diwali and festival season to you and your family!!

    1. Happy belated Diwali! Love to you and your family :)

  7. What's on your Diwali menu?

    1. It was huge :) Posting tomorrow about it!

  8. Very concise info! Thank you!

  9. In Malaysia we do all but we also have ancestors prayers on eve of diwali, mutton dish on diwali, and angpow or money given to young children ( mayb learnt from our other malysian culture.) We also will invite our malay and chinese friends to have lunch or dinner in our house.



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