Immigrants Bring Diwali Celebration From India to America’s Shores

The ancient festival of lights known as Diwali has been celebrated by millions of Hindus around the world for millennia, and Indian immigrant communities in the United States continue to observe the holiday in an effort to maintain a cultural connection to their native homeland. But until recently, Diwali, which is based on the Hindu calendar and falls between mid-October and mid-November, has never been on the radar of mainstream America. That’s slowly starting to change, as evidenced by the spate of public celebrations honoring Diwali this fall throughout the U.S.

This year, the actual date of Diwali falls on October 19th, although celebrations typically begin two days before Diwali and continue up to two days after. The holiday is held just prior to the Hindu new year and symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The lighting of oil lamps or candles is an important element of Diwali festivities, and celebrants may exchange gifts and enjoy a family feast known as mithai.

Times Square in New York City was the site of a hotly anticipated Diwali event on October 7th. Now in its fourth year, Diwali at Times Square draws tens of thousands of visitors eager to learn about the holiday and enjoy Bollywood style dance performances, a food bazaar, and a lighting ceremony. Neeta Bhasin, an immigrant from India and president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm that organized the event, explained in a recent interview with ABC News why New York City is the perfect venue for the event. “I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America to showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.” [See Diwali Festivals Grow in U.S., from Disney to Times Square, by Beth Harpaz, ABC News, 26.Sep.2017.]

Another American icon shining the spotlight on Diwali is Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. The beloved theme park will present traditional Indian dances, as well as a mass Bollywood dance party, for visitors beginning November 10th. San Antonio, Texas will also honor Diwali on November 4th in one of the nation’s largest city sponsored celebrations of the holiday. Now in its ninth year, the event is expected to attract up to 15,000 people and will feature Indian food, dancing, and a fireworks display. Similar Diwali festivals are scheduled throughout the fall across the country, including Cary, NC, Seattle, WA, and Columbus, OH.

Many Indian immigrants feel that, in an increasingly politically divided nation, this year’s Diwali festivities are an especially important reminder that diversity should be celebrated. As Bhasin explained to ABC News, “It is extremely important to be together and to showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world that we are one, we are all the same human beings.”

 

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