Though South King County is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in Washington State, you may not know much about the winter celebrations of your neighbors.
Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is next Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, and will be celebrated by six million people across the United States, and over one billion worldwide.
What is Diwali?
Diwali is the most significant holiday for those of Hindu, Jain, and Sikh faith. It celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
Christie Sanam, a local resident with familial ties to India and Diwali, shares her thoughts:
“From an American point of reference [Diwali is] a Hindu celebration like taking the fireworks from the 4th of July, festivities from Christmas and New Year’s, putting them in a bag and shaking them up,” Sanam said. “It is [a celebration of] the triumph of good over evil, decorating with lights, traditionally diyas, which [are] candles made from ghee (clarified butter), doing pooja (a sort of prayer ritual, offerings to god and wishing for his blessing in return), exchanging gifts with family (often new clothes), and lots of delicious festival food. Oh, and LOTs of fireworks. What’s more is this is a culmination of many smaller events leading up to Diwali (generally called festival season).”
Diwali is typically a five-day celebration that is used as a time of reflection, gratitude, spending time with family and loved ones, and looking ahead towards the future.
“Leading up to the holiday is a time to clean the house and prepare to invite good blessings in and decorate with diyas and lights,” Sanam added. “A well-lit home is said to invite the goddess Lakshmi to bring you good fortune.”
Diwali is a particularly colorful holiday. Celebrants decorate with lights and colors of all kinds during the festivities.
“People will decorate with rangoli – colorful patterns that can be made with colored powder (akin to what you see in Holi), flower petals, chalk or whatever material is available. Families and friends get together to feast on delicious food and light fireworks off together,” says Sanam. “I was fortunate enough to be in India for Diwali once and as I understand they are starting to become more concerned about the air quality during the festival but it was wall to wall, sensory overload fireworks. Everywhere you look — from a rooftop you could see fireworks in the air, on the ground in the streets and alleyways, 360 degrees of celebration. It’s quite phenomenal.”
How to Participate in Diwali
“Generally speaking most Hindu temples will have events as this is the festival season,” Sanam said.
Though most Diwali celebrations in the area are happening in Bellevue, Redmond, and Bothell, some efforts are being made to bring the festivities to South King County.
The Kent Hindu Temple is hosting a number of poojahs (prayer rituals) and an organization called The Voice of Planet is hosting a Diwali celebration for the first time, also in Kent. (Click here for details on how to attend).
“When I was growing up, I knew almost nothing about Indian culture beyond what TV shows and movies offered us,” Sanam muses. “I’m betting there’s a lot of folks who may still have a poorly formed image of what Diwali is, what Hinduism (or Jainism or Sikhism) really is, and I’d love for them to confront their biases and existing knowledge and put in the work to learn about the history and how the celebration came to be. There’s a lot of fascinating storytelling, rich cultural traditions, and stunningly beautiful traditions that come along with Diwali.”