One of our favorite festivals during our time in India was Diwali, known in Sanskrit as Deepavali. It gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (or deepa) that are lit outside of people’s homes. Basically, Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and the beginning of a new year. It is celebrated for 3 to 5 days every year between mid October and mid November, based on the Hindu lunar calendar.
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of India’s most popular and important festivals. To an outsider, it looks similar to Christmas and New Year combined. Houses are cleaned, presents are purchased, fairy lights are hung up and fireworks are set off. This is also the time of year (in India) when staff receive yearly bonuses, families buy new clothes and businesses start a new fiscal year.
Even though people from all religions participate to some extent, it is primarily a Hindu holiday which remains as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians.
7 Epic Ways to Celebrate Diwali with Kids
In our family’s effort to raise a global citizen, we have found the celebration of festivals from around the world to be great opportunities for learning, spending time together as a family, as well as an outlet for creativity. Diwali is perfect for this as it incorporates so much that kids love – fairy lights, crafts and fireworks/sparklers!
The essential ingredients to any Diwali celebration include: lights and/or diyas, colorful rangoli designs, sparklers, a puja to Lakshmi and of course delicious Indian food with Bollywood’s latest tunes blasting overhead. Mix and match or do it all to create a fun family event. Below are our suggestions on 7 ways you can celebrate Diwali at home with your children.
Decorate the House for Diwali
In India, often for weeks prior to celebrations, families will spend time cleaning out their houses from top to bottom. Once they have cleaned it all out, they are ready to begin the fun of decorating for Diwali. Traditionally, decorations consisted of oil lamps and paper lanterns. Today, many homes are covered in wonderful displays of fairy lights just as we would see in the US for Christmas. In addition to lights, many houses also still hang a variety of paper lanterns. Your neighbors may think you got started on Christmas a little early, but that’s O.K.!
Make Diyas Out of Clay for Diwali Decorations
One of the main components of Diwali centers around the presence of light. It is believed that light is what welcomes the Goddess Lakshmi into people’s homes. This comes in the shape of fairy lights, candles or the traditional Indian diya (oil based light).
For a fun mulit-day activity, kids can make their own diyas out of clay, to be painted or glitzed up with gem stone stickers once they dry. Need some inspiration on how to make your diyas, check out this easy ‘how to’ to get you started. If you aren’t into making the diyas from scratch, you can buy pre-made diyas to decorate at home with paint or stickers. Don’t forget to add in your tea lights for the finishing look. Now you can line your entry way, windows or just about anywhere with these beautiful decorations.
If making or decorating diya’s is not your thing, print out diya coloring pages to keep your little ones occupied!
Make Rangoli Designs for Diwali with Kids
One of our favorite things to do for any Indian holiday is to create rangoli designs at home using chalk. Rangoli Stencil sets are fun for the kids to use throughout the year. We use ours for Ganpati, Diwali and Holi.
If you prefer to try the more traditional way of making rangolis, you can draw the design you want on the ground, filling each individual section with colored powder or sand. Or cheat and use these Rangoli Stencil Plates to help you out, which is what I usually end up doing!
For elementary school age children and up, they can make their own rangoli patterns using graph paper or paper with dots. Check out this great book that provides ideas and help on making more complex rangoli patterns. Alternatively, print out and/or design your own rangoli on a piece of cardboard, add glue to each section and cover with colored sand/powder for a longer lasting rangoli design that won’t blow away with the wind. Need inspiration? Take a look at these amazing designs.
Read Books about Diwali
To give the kids and other family members a little more information on Diwali and how it is celebrated, read books on Diwali. Unfortunately even in large cities it’s not always easy to find books on Diwali at the local library. That is always my first option, but if not, head over to Amazon where there are many books available for different age levels.
For a quick and simple overview of the components of Diwali, Lighting a Lamp is a good place to start. For preschoolers and for families with some knowledge of India and it’s customs, The Diwali Gift is a cute book that tells the story of three monkeys excited for a present from the grandmother. They discuss the different components of Diwali in relation to this present, but do not explain what they are specifically. Kids will love the suspense and enjoy the cute little monkey’s antics. Finally, for a more in depth look into the story of Diwali and the religious background, check out Amma Tell Me About Diwali. This book is most suitable for kids who are a bit older.
For more books on Diwali, here is our Amazon list of Diwali Books for Children.
Make Indian Sweets to Celebrate Diwali with Kids
No Indian festival is complete without a feast of delicious foods and in particular sweets! One of the most popular Indian sweets for Diwali is ladoo. Basically a ladoo is a ball-shaped sweet made with a flour (wheat or chickpea flour) mixed with ghee (clarified butter) and nuts or coconut. They are said to be Ganesh’s favorite sweet and are always present during offerings to the Gods.
If you want to try your hand at making ladoo, get your gram (chickpea) flour from the local Indian market and follow these simple instructions. I also like to add in a little bit (approximately 1 tsp per batch) of cardamom powder for added flavor.
A very easy ladoo that even kids can do themselves is Coconut Ladoo which has only two ingredients – coconut and condensed milk. Try it with your kids and let me know what you think! Warning, it is sweet!
Another favorite Indian sweet that kids often enjoy is vermicelli kheer. This is essentially noodles in a milky sauce with nuts and fruit mixed in. It is delicious!
Present an Offering to Lakshmi
Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and every Diwali celebration for devout Hindus would include a puja (prayer) and offering to Lakshmi. To welcome the Goddess, devotees clean their houses, decorate them with lights, and prepare sweet treats and delicacies as offerings. Devotees believe the happier Lakshmi is with the visit, the more she blesses the family with health and wealth. To add a bit of the spiritual side, you can have your children prepare a plate of offerings to Lakshmi with all of the items you have worked on for your celebration. Include a diya, sweets and other important items the kids think she might enjoy.
Light Sparklers for a Fun Way to Celebrate Diwali with Kids
Once the sun has set, head outside and light up the night with sparklers. Kids of all ages will have fun waving them around in the night sky. Remind kids not to touch the sparkler even after the spark is out as it is still very hot! (yes, this is from experience!). Lighting of the sparklers for us is what signifies the end of our Diwali celebrations.
To read more about how Diwali is celebrated in India, head over to Kids Are A Trip to read my guest post there.
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