How to Celebrate Diwali With Kids
Children’s book author Raakhee Mirchandani talks about how she celebrates Diwali with her family and friends.
Diwali is my favorite holiday. I love everything about it: the food, the mithai, gathering with friends and family, gorgeous new Indian clothes, and decorating my apartment. I especially love all the new traditions my daughter and I have created together, new ways to experience our rich heritage that are uniquely ours, a couple of Indian American girls from New Jersey.
The truth is, the way I celebrate Diwali now is very different from the way I grew up celebrating Diwali. My parents are immigrants who found themselves in northern New Jersey by way of Suriname, Philippines, and India. My grandparents were Partition refugees. As a kid, I participated in cultural shows and did puja, the spiritual and religious marking of the holiday, at home. We never talked about Diwali at school or with non-Indian friends, and while the celebrations were meaningful, they were quiet.
But there’s nothing quiet about my nearly 9-year old daughter Satya and me, especially when it comes to things we love. And wow, does that child love her powerful Indian roots. So for Diwali to be fulfilling for us, it has to be shared.
What Is Diwali?
Diwali is often called the Festival of Lights and is celebrated globally by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. And like all holidays, different families and communities celebrate Diwali in different ways. Some folks celebrate Diwali for five days. In my family we celebrate for two days, Dhanteras and Diwali. On Dhanteras, we go to my father’s office and do puja and aarti. We believe that by welcoming Laxmi Mata, the goddess of prosperity, into our place of business, she will be sure to visit us all year long.
After the puja, we all go out to eat Chinese food! Friends will often ask me, “Chinese food? Is that traditional?” That question always makes me smile. There’s no official rulebook about celebrating your favorite holiday in a new country, so in many ways, we wrote the rules. And eating a family meal together, at the same Chinese restaurant, is authentically us.
Fun Ways to Celebrate Diwali With Kids
There are so many different ways to celebrate Diwali with kids. Here are a few ideas for how your family can welcome the Laxmi into your home, too.
Decorate your space
Inspired by so many of our friends who decorate their homes for Hanukkah and Christmas, my Diwali decor has become quite the thing. I get everything up about a month before Diwali so we have time to enjoy the many marigold garlands and twinkling lights. (Don’t ask me when I take it down; that’s a story for another day.) Satya and I throw on some Bollywood tunes—or, if it’s her choice, Harry Styles, Lizzo, or the Wow in the World podcast—and we go about the apartment setting out lotus candlesticks, diyas, homemade Diwali decor, and lots of beaded and mirrored hanging decorations from India. We love transforming our apartment, a physical manifestation of our internal joy.
We really enjoy Kultura Khazana’s toys and crafts. Satya and I assemble the rangoli puzzle and leave it on the floor as decoration. The coaster kit and DIY toran are something we can do together and then incorporate into our decor. This year, I’m gifting the toran kit to Satya’s entire class so they can all bring a little Diwali home with them.
Food is love and love is food and, let’s be clear, we love food. In my new picture book, My Diwali Light, Devi’s dad and dadi handle the cooking while her mama gets the decor set up. It’s a glorious all-hands approach for the party they are planning. At home, Satya can’t get enough of helping her grandmother roll rotis and parathas. There’s so much to share while cooking and prepping.
I am obsessed with this Makhana Chaat recipe from Nisha at Love Laugh Mirch. It’s the ideal blend of Desi flavors, with kid-friendly ingredients like apples, pomegranate seeds, cucumber, and peppers. It’s healthy, fun to prepare, and absolutely delicious for kids and adults alike.
Share a story
In My Diwali Light —with words by me and art by the talented Supriya Kelkar—Devi gets ready for her favorite holiday by cleaning her room, painting diyas, and preparing for the big party she has in her apartment for all her friends and family.
Like Devi, we also have a big party in our not-so-big apartment! We invite our friends, neighbors, teachers, community members, local business owners, and so many people we love to squish in, gather, dance, and eat. We also paint diyas in the weeks leading up to the party, so everyone who attends leaves with a reminder of the time they shared with us. These new traditions—diya painting, the party, and decorating—are the ways we express our lived joy. Being able to include friends who may not celebrate Diwali in their own homes is really special for us.
I love sharing My Diwali LIght at schools, libraries, and during story times and parties. I always find that it encourages kids who celebrate to bask in the glory of connection. And for my friends who celebrate their own traditional holidays, sharing my favorite holiday with them is an invitation for them to proudly share their own celebrations with each other.
Join a Diwali event happening in your town or neighborhood, or attend one virtually. Gathering together, whether in person or virtually, is a way to deepen connections and inspire excitement.
Shine your light
It’s impossible to talk about Diwali without talking about light. And while the diyas and string lights are beautiful, they don’t hold a candle to the brightest of all the lights—the light we all have within. Our unique light—the way we cheer up a friend, welcome someone new to our community, or show empathy, kindness, and love—makes this world a better and braver place. One of the ways Satya and I celebrate Diwali is by serving our community. We make sandwiches for the Hoboken, New Jersey homeless shelter, fill our community’s Little Free Libraries with books, and donate food pantry items to the Hoboken Community Center. A meaningful way to share your light is to spread it, so find something that lights you and your little ones up and go forth and brighten the world!