Diwali is a cornerstone holiday festival celebrated by more than one billion people around the world. But what does it symbolize and how can you join in on the occasion respectfully and extend Diwali wishes to your friends and family? Here is everything you need to know! (Have questions? Ask us in the comments section at the end of this article!)
What Is Diwali?
Diwali is the Hindu five-day festival of light. Also known as Deepavali or Deepawali, the name means “row of lights” in Sanskrit (the sacred language of Hinduism) and celebrates the triumph of light over darkness at the beginning of a new year. In ancient legends, this time is associated with the end of the harvest and represents the bounty of the season. The official holiday likely arose from a combination of various harvest events.
The central idea is: where there is light, there is no space for darkness. Therefore, light is critical during the festival, and small clay lamps called diyas are used to illuminate spaces and invite Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, into one’s home and life.
Depending on the interpretation of the holiday, Diwali celebrates the marriage of Lakshmi to Vishnu, the god of protection, and honors both deities, or may mark the return of Lord Rama after fourteen years of exile. Other local interpretations may commemorate victories of different historical battles or other “light over dark” or “good over evil” successes in regional history.
Each day embraces a different aspect to welcome the new year, refresh one’s life, and reconnect with family and therefore bears a similarity sentiment to the western holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day).
Here are some frequently asked questions about this holiday to help you understand, appreciate, and celebrate—regardless of your faith.
When is Diwali 2024?
The festival occurs around the new Moon in the Hindu month of Kartik (according to the lunar calendar). The vary from year to year in the Gregorian calendar, but generally fall in October or November. In 2024, the festival goes from October 29- November 3, with the main day considered to be Friday, November 1, 2024.
How long is Diwali?
The full festival is a five-day event, with each day having different significance. The third day is the most significant and is considered the first day of the new year.
Who celebrates Diwali?
Diwali is widely celebrated among Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains—faiths that were founded in India. The celebration is open to everyone, however, and more than one billion people worldwide celebrate it.
Where is the biggest Diwali celebration?
While the biggest and most elaborate Diwali celebrations are in India, outside of the country, the largest Diwali celebration is held annually in Leicester in the United Kingdom.
What is Diwali celebrating?
The holiday celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and honors Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, by inviting her into one’s home and life for prosperity in the new year. However there are multiple interpretations (as stated above).
What decorations are most common for Diwali?
Small clay lights or tea lights are the most common Diwali decorations, along with rangoli—elaborate patterns of colored rice flour, rice, chalk powder, or other substances near home entrances. (See photo below.)
What events are part of Diwali?
Feasts, gift exchanges, fireworks, offerings to Hindu deities, family reunions and gatherings, shopping, and decorating are all part of the festivities.
Doesn’t Diwali include flying lanterns?
While some celebrations may include lanterns as part of Diwali celebrations, that tradition is more commonly associated with the Chinese Lantern Festival, the Shangyuan Festival, in February or early March, that marks the end of the Chinese new year celebrations.
The Five Days of Diwali
Traditionally, Diwali is celebrated across five consecutive days, with each day involving different celebrations and significance.
Day 1 – Dhanteras
This is a day of cleaning, decluttering, and otherwise cleansing to open room for light and prosperity in one’s home, life, and soul. It is considered good luck to shop for gold on this day in honor of Lakshmi.
Day 2 — Choti Diwali
This day is dedicated to creating elaborate decorations. This includes lighting the clay diyas or other lights, placing them in rows or clusters to drive out all shadows. Positioning the lights in corners, along entrances, or on windowsills is common. Rangolis are also decorated on this day, and other decorations such as flowers, fruit arrangements, and more are displayed.
Day 3 — Diwali
The third day is the main day of the holiday (and most significant day of the celebration). This is the official first day of the new year of the Hindu lunar calendar, and is used for tremendous family gatherings and celebratory feasts, music, dancing, and more. Gifts are exchanged, prayers are offered, and fireworks displays are often planned for this day.
Day 4 — Padwa
The fourth day of Diwali, and is reserved for visiting others, particularly family members and friends. Though less elaborate than the celebrations of the day before, this day of connection also includes feasts and gift exchanges.
Day 5 — Bhai Dooj
The fifth and final day of Diwali and is dedicated to the connection between siblings. Brothers and sisters will offer prayers on this day to protect and guide their siblings for a healthy and prosperous new year, and it will be a day of gathering and visiting for these close relatives.
How to Celebrate Diwali
Regardless of one’s faith, Diwali can be a wonderful holiday to celebrate with positivity, connection to family and friends, and embracing the good in one’s life. There are fun ways to celebrate the holiday and incorporate rich Indian traditions into the festivities, such as …
- Making rangoli to welcome guests to your home. You can use food coloring to dye dried rice, or scrape chalk with a rouge edge to create colored powders. Small beads, aquarium gravel, flower petals, beans, and similar materials can be used to design these intricate and colorful patterns.
- Cook a traditional Indian dish (or order one from a local Indian restaurant), such as samosas, naan, chutney, biriyani, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, or the fudge-like barfi.
- Attend a local Indian music performance with traditional musicians or dancers celebrating the season, or visit a gallery of Indian art to learn more about the culture.
- Visit a local or regional Hindu temple to learn more about the faith and culture beyond just the holiday season.
- Plan a brilliant fireworks display to ring in the Hindu new year on the third night of Diwali and share the brightness with friends, family members, and neighbors.
- Take the time to reconnect with distant family members or friends to strengthen the bonds that you share with everyone important in your life.
Offering Diwali Wishes For Prosperity
Whether you are celebrating Diwali yourself or want to wish others you know the best of this important holiday season, there are a variety of ways to share Diwali wishes and greetings. Simple phrases like “Happy Diwali!” “Have a joyful Diwali!” or “Have a blessed Diwali!” are always appropriate, but you can also be more creative with phrases, greetings, and wishes that embody the positivity of the holiday and the meaning behind the celebration. Here are some examples:
- May the festival’s lights guide you through difficult times.
- May Diwali bring enough light to banish all darkness from your life.
- Hope, happiness, and wealth to you this Diwali!
- May your year be as colorful as the Diwali colors.
- Wishing you a new year as bright as the Diwali fireworks!
- Have a cozy, warm, and bright Diwali!
- May the lights of Diwali burn away your troubles.
- May Lakshmi bless you this year in more ways than you can count.
- May Diwali’s light burn brightly with you throughout the year.
- Hoping your Diwali is as sweet as the treats you eat to celebrate it.
- Carry Diwali’s light with you to remember on darker days this year.
- May this Diwali begin a joyous and prosperous year for you and yours.
These greetings can be offered personally or shared in a special note or greeting card as a way to extend good wishes and connection to others through the holiday season, bringing light and happiness to all for these special celebrations.
Join The Discussion
How will you celebrate Diwali 2024?
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Melissa Mayntz is a writer who specializes in birds and birding, though her work spans a wide range—from folklore to healthy living. Her first book, Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds was published in 2020. Mayntz also writes for National Wildlife Magazine and The Spruce. Find her at MelissaMayntz.com.