Winter is the time for festivals of light and the first one to appear on the calendar this year is Diwali, which is celebrated on the new moon (often called the dark moon) of the Hindu month of Kartika. Diwali is the name for the third day of a five-day holiday and falls on October 30 this year.
The name Diwali means “line of lights.” People set out lit oil-filled clay lamps (diya) on windowsills and in front of houses. Fireworks, bonfires, and electric and neon lights add to the illumination.
There is a sense of newness and renewal. Before the holiday, houses are cleaned and whitewashed. Women and children create rangoli—circular decorative designs, like small mandalas, made of colored rice flour or even flower petals on thresholds—in front of houses and in hallways to honor Lakshmi the goddess of wealth (although Kali is honored in some parts of India and Krishna in others).
The day before Diwali, many people take a fragrant ritual bath and women decorate themselves with henna. New clothes are purchased to be worn on the holiday. Gifts are given, and families gather to feast on rich foods and special desserts. In some places, merchants close accounts and open new account books. It’s also a lucky day for gambling.
On the fourth day of the festival, wives and husbands honor each other, while on the fifth day, sisters honor their brothers by applying a mark with sandalwood paste on their foreheads and circling them with a lit lamp as a form of blessing. In modern times, where there is more distance between sister and brother, the mark might be sent by mail. I love the idea of a special holiday for husbands to honor their wives and for sisters to honor their brothers.
It seems a bit too early in the Western world for decorating with Christmas lights, but I love the idea of creating a pattern on the floor—it could be as simple as a chalk mark—to invoke good luck and wealth.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”