I had lunch with my preschooler recently. In line with my daughter was a little girl dressed in an embroidered churidar suit, a traditional garment in Southeast Asia. As she walked, the decorations around her collar and the gold bracelets around her wrist jingled merrily with each step. I told her how I loved her outfit. The assistant teacher leaned over and explained that the little girl was celebrating something, “I think the birthday of a god.” She looked down at the girl, “Isn't that right?” The girl looked blankly back. I then quickly interjected, “Honey, are you celebrating Diwali?” At that, the little girl nodded, grinned widely and skipped over to her table. The assistant teacher looked up at me and stared perplexed, “How did you know that?”
Diwali, the festival of lights, is the biggest and most important holiday in India and is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. It happens every fall, depending on the cycle of the moon, and lasts five days. This year it began Nov. 13 and ended Nov. 17. Diwali began as a harvest festival. Each day brings different traditions including the lighting of candles and lamps and setting off fireworks. These represent good over evil, the light defeating the darkness. In India, the end of the festival marks the start of the new year. It is a joyful celebration of hope and new beginnings and a time for family.
Diwali may not be a mainstream holiday in America like Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, it is one of many celebrations this holiday season that exemplify the beautiful diversity in our world. More than that, when we have students in our classes or schools who mark Diwali, we serve them by showing interest in and appreciation for their lives and cultures.
Sometimes, those of us in a dominant culture are not mindful of the rest of the world. But we want to be mindful and respectful. Next year, when asking students about their Thanksgiving holiday, be mindful of those who observe Diwali and remember to ask how their celebrations went.
Sansbury is a middle and high school English teacher in Georgia.
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