Image: The Boar/Shay Solanki
Image: The Boar/Shay Solanki

Celebrating Diwali under lockdown

Diwali is the Hindu festival of light which usually takes place between October and November, with the precise dates changing yearly depending on the cycle of the moon. In 2020, Diwali begins on Thursday 12 November and lasts for a five-day period in which the main celebration takes place on Saturday.

Religious holidays and festivals hold different meanings to each person, some may view Christmas as a symbol of gratefulness while others view it as a sacrifice. Diwali for me is a celebration of light, hope and family; it is a means to appreciate everything you have and to see the light in your own life. When I was young, I never truly appreciated Diwali as a festival since my favourite was always Christmas. I used to associate it with visiting old people and long car drives around Harrow, but it is now so much more to me.

One of the biggest aspects of Diwali that I’ll truly miss is seeing my family

This time of year is sweet and warm, diyas light the stairs while the flowers hang on our front door. Brown and red autumn leaves crunch when you step on them, and the wind is brisk when you walk outside. I’m usually quite excited to wear my bright lehenga in the grey streets of London, on my way to my cousins’ house to eat their dhokla. This year, the circumstances are quite unusual. Although I came home to celebrate Diwali with my family, it’ll be completely different.

One of the biggest aspects of Diwali that I’ll truly miss is seeing my family. On Diwali, it is common to visit your family to give them your best wishes, and mithai (sweets). Dressed in full south-Asian attire, whether it be a lehenga or a saree, we leave the house at the crack of dawn to see all our relatives before they start doing their rounds too. We usually see uncles or aunties in our local area first.

There’s really no point in eating breakfast or lunch since we get served a range of Indian sweets or snacks at each house, which you are also supposed to serve at your own house. As a seven-year-old, I probably just found it exhausting, but as a 20-year-old this is truly a gift. Each family member has their own style and way of doing things – I love seeing their personal Diwali decorations, foods and even traditions. By the time we get home, it’s probably 3 pm so we wait for family to visit our home now, despite seeing them perhaps only three hours before.

My family makes our own Diwali sweets instead of buying them

One of my favourite parts of Diwali is food. This year the menu looks something like butter chicken, chana masala, hopefully, biryani and thousands of sweets. My family makes our own Diwali sweets instead of buying them, that way you can personalise them to your own tastes and diet.

Once again, I was a silly child and never really enjoyed the Diwali sweets except for chocolate burfi, which is essentially condensed sugary milk powder with a layer of chocolate on top. English explanations of anything never truly embody the full meaning but I can assure you that they are all incredibly tasty.

This year, I’ve been able to try a lot of mithai as my mum kindly adjusted some recipes to my plant-based diet. I’m in love with ghughra – a coconut-based pastry stuffed with nuts and chocolate, then deep-fried until flaky. I’ve also developed an obsession for kaju katli which involves thin slices of hardened cashews and sugar syrup.

I’m grateful to be in the presence of my family anyway

Last Diwali I was quite lucky to spend it in two households. I went to my first non-familial Diwali party at my friend’s house then celebrated again with my immediate family. I was in awe at the way my friend and her family celebrated – the slight cultural differences to the oddly familiar similarities. I tasted my first tabbouleh and now nothing will ever compare to the way her dad makes it.

This year will be me and my immediate family. I won’t be able to share the fondness with my cousins and aunts, while we chat about school and biryani but I’m grateful to be in the presence of my family anyway. It’s a very tough time now, with some students not even being able to travel home. Although I’d love to do everything we normally would and more, it’s safer to simply eat our chana and do fireworks as a small family.

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