Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Diwali Memories

Diwali is the festival of lights - the biggest Hindu festival in India. In terms of fanfare, think of it as Hindu Christmas plus fireworks. Friends and neighbors exchange sweets (akin to cookie exchange), homes are cleaned (like Christmas) and decorated with lights and Rangoli patterns. There are sales on home goods and folks are bombarded with advertisements for jewelry and watches (for the special someone in your life). Everywhere you look there is a sale or a bumper sale. Streets are decorated with lights and shops/markets are dressed up in their glittering best.

When Bernie asked if I have a favorite holiday memory, I said - Yes, oh yes. I sure do.

My dad was a bank manager. In an era when ATMs were unknown and online banking had not been invented, dad interacted with lots of people from all walks of life. Their concerns were as varied as their financial standings and dad went out of his way to help them. Most of his clients were local small business owners and some of them had loans from the bank. There were short periods of time when their accounts were overdrawn when their bulk orders were delivered. As a bank manger, dad had the discretion whether they received a fine or not. Since dad knew them and their businesses he knew that they were good for it. Of course this meant the world to a small business owner. Naturally they wanted to express their gratitude but dad refused all gifts due to ethical reasons. 

Large Welcoming Display at the New Delhi Airport

Come Diwali, all those small business owners had a chance to express their gratitude. Visitors would begin as early as 10:00 in the morning. Most came with a standard box of sweets, some brought a fancy box of dry fruits (cashews, almonds, raisins and pistachios). Dad and mom would greet the visitor and offer tea which was mostly declined. There were many more boxes to deliver, they would say.  Of course they were in a hurry so mom and dad would walk with them to the main gate chatting all the way.

Large Rangoli - Flower Petals, Grass and Colored Powders

This was our golden opportunity. While mom and dad were seeing this gentleman off, us girls (my sister and I) would sneak into the drawing room and attack the box of sweets. If the box contained all one kind of sweets, we'd be disappointed. If the box contained an assortment of sweets, we'd be thrilled. Joyously we'd each pick our favorite and enjoy the syrupy sweetness completely oblivious of the calories or additives. By the time mom and dad walked back into the drawing room, we girls would be elbows deep into the box of sweets. Dad would shake his head and smile while mom would give us the stink eye. 

"Come on girls," she'd say. "Some of these sweets can go to friends and neighbors." Yes sweets regifting (if the box was unopened or the sweets looked undisturbed) is normal and acceptable. 

One time we received a large fruit basket and even mom was impressed. I still remember the sweet and juicy pears. 

In the evening mom would prepare the special meal - matar paneer (peas and cheese), alu gobhi (potatoes and cauliflower), pooris (fry bread) and dahi wada (dumplings in yogurt with sweet tamarind chutney).

Pre-made Rangoli (painted wooden frame)

Rangoli by Paul and Preeti 

Dad would light the firecrackers, while we girls watched from a safe distance away. My sister and I were fine with holding sparklers but rockets and flower pots were too much for us. Mostly we sat happy and wide-eyed as dad went through all the crackers - little noisy ones on a string that went pat pat pat, long rockets that went zoom, and pyramid shaped flower pots - big, bright and colorful.  I remember, one year there was a new cracker/rocket that started as one color and then changed to another and ended with a shower of little stars. 

Then we'd gather for the Diwali Pooja (prayers to Ganesha and Laxmi). We'd all sing the aarti (Hymns to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi) together. After the Pooja it was time to enjoy the sumptuous spread.  We went to bed while the distant sound of firecrackers continued till after midnight.

Fourth of July Fireworks 

Big and Bright

After dad passed away we never got firecrackers. Mom still sends sweets to a few close friends and family members but those days of almost non-stop sweets/fruits are long gone. My fond memories remain.

In process

Rangoli 2016 - Completed with the tea lights

Although we did not make Rangoli growing up, I have adopted that tradition as something that Paul and I can do together. We make the Rangoli to welcome the Goddess Laxmi. I perform the Diwali Pooja, while he watches reverently. I feel silly (and off kilter) singing by myself, so we listen while I play it on my phone. We light candles and turn on the festival lights. This year Paul surprised me with firecrackers, "because they make you happy", Paul said. Although he bought them for 4th of July, we saved a few for Diwali.

Modest Diwali Lights

Paul with Sparklers :-)

Rangoli 2020 - Bit Subdued

Fireworks still make me happy. Once we went to Chicago for the 4th of July and watched the fireworks display from a boat on Lake Michigan. Awesome!!! A couple years ago I met Sandra in Buffalo, NY and we watched the fireworks display from the bridge between US and Canada. It was beautiful and I was very happy.

I'll never be too old for fireworks

I got take-out from an Indian restaurant. The only thing missing was the sweets. Paul does not care for Indian sweets so I asked him to get whatever dessert he wanted. He got a Strawberry Cake. 

The next day I called mom and narrated to her how we had pieced together a pandemic Diwali celebration. "As long as you got your favorite sweets, it works. It is important that the festival includes all." She added, "next year I wish that you and Paul can come to India and we can celebrate together."

I agreed.

Paul: But what about Christmas memories?
Me: We did go to a convent school and sang Christmas carols at the morning assembly. 
Paul: No. Not your childhood Christmas memories. Our Christmas memories.
Me: Huh?

Our First Christmas Together (Paul got us a TV)

Paul had created the "Santa Scene" (Jonesie in the background) 

My sense of awe is intact

Paul's gift was a hit

Me: Oh yes. It was 2016.
Paul: There was a little Christmas tree on the table with tiny ornaments.
Me: You know I ordered that from Indian Amazon and had it delivered to mom before we got there.
Paul: That was very sweet.

The little Christmas Tree

With Meetu

Me: Meetu brought the food.
Paul: Didn't you bake the cookies here and carried them half way across the world.
Me: I wasn't sure I would get all the ingredients in India.

Cranberry Shortbread Cookies

On Christmas Morning (see the tree/plant behind)

Paul: Anju and her husband came too.
Me: And they brought my favorite - Black Forest Cake.
Paul: But you are forgetting the best part...
Me: No, I was saving that for the last.
Paul: The tree.
Me: Yes, the big tree.

The potted plant in the picture above became the Christmas tree.

My brother

Mom and Paul

Paul is a huge hit in India. I have lovingly called him my trophy husband. His fair skin and blue eyes are an instant draw. He speaks almost no Hindi and makes for an excellent listener. Savita's son and Ruby's boys are fascinated with him. They will take pictures with him and post on FB and then beam with every like and comment. They will proudly claim him to be their American uncle married to their Indian aunty. So when they realized that Paul would be celebrating Christmas with them, it became a mission. Mom's driver Lalit joined in the scheme and they decorated a large live potted plant.


Paul and his young fans 

Merry Christmas

Me: Didn't you make the star on the top of the tree?
Paul: I did. Cardboard and aluminum foil.
Me: With a pencil at its base?
Paul: Yup.
Me: Merry Christmas to you, babe.
Paul: Happy Diwali to you, darling.

Christmas in India

Diwali in the US

I am going to read about all the holiday tales and traditions as narrated by other quilter/bloggers. Won't you join the fun?

And if you have a favorite holiday memory, I'd love to hear all about it in the comments. 
Have a Safe and a Happy Holiday! 


  1. Preeti, you are the story teller. I always enjoy your posts and Paul's input! wishing you both Happy Holidays and a safe New Year!

  2. Some wonderful memories shared here--thank you, Preeti! I can just imagine diving into those sweets ASAP! I love the Christmas trees, fireworks by your dad and then your DH, the beautiful Rangoli drawings.

  3. What a wonderful post, beautiful memories. Thank you for sharing this cultural celebration.

  4. I love your stories and you have lead an interesting life. Celebrating in India also for Paul must be interesting change - fun to see you looking over that cookbook so much!

  5. Your Rangoli remind me of the alfombras in Central America. They also do the firecrackers and fireworks for Christmas. Of course living in the great cold north neither would work here hahaha unless we wanted the snow to cover the rangoli and to freeze into popsicles watching fireworks. Still I love all things food related to holidays and the sweets sound delightful. I could gladly squeeze myself in at your mother's table, yummy. Thank you for the trip to India!

  6. What nice stories about holiday traditions. The description of the fruit and nuts and sweets in India made me drool. And fireworks too. The traditional christmas in India and how you did it was also beautiful. Have a joyous holiday season.

  7. I enjoyed all the photos and reading your memories, Preeti. The beautiful Rangoli drawings are amazing. How fun that you love fireworks, and that Paul is such a popular guy with your family. He looks like he takes it all in stride. Thank you for sharing your memories with us!

  8. Good morning Preeti - I loved your stories about Diwali and Christmas both. You and Paul seem so supportive of each other and the different cultures that you were raised with. I really enjoyed hearing about your traditions as they are so different from ours. What a delightful post. Thank you for sharing each bit of it. As always, your writing is just outstanding. :-)

  9. Thank you for sharing your sweet memories - both Diwali and Christmas. The rangoli tradition for Diwali is so beautiful.

  10. What a joy to read about your wonderful family traditions and the interweaving of faiths. Wishing you many blessings for the coming new year.

  11. It's such fun to read my name here because when I was reading about the rangoli, I was thinking of the rangoli fabric you sent me several years ago, and how much I LOVE them (like mandalas with which I've always been fascinated) but also reading about the Indian dishes took me back to the Niagara trip and the meal we had, and I thought, 'Oh, man, I need to find an Indian restaurant here!' and then a few paragraphs later, you mention me and that trip! Ahhh, our fireworks watching on that bridge suspended over the Niagara River--! That was truly magical for me too, as I love fireworks, and over those falls, spectacular. I'd love to be in India for Diwali one day. :-)

  12. I enjoyed reading about your Hindu Christmas with fireworks :)! I then read everyone else's holiday posts! Some of my favorite memories are baking and decorating cut out cookies, driving neighborhoods to check out the Christmas lights, decorating the tree and watching White Christmas while eating above mentioned cookies with milk. Oh, and the year my older sister and I talked our Mom into changing the Christmas dinner to our choice. We loved her homemade tacos and enchiladas, which were not made often enough for me. She fixed them and we were so happy not to have ham again, lol.

  13. Preeti, I enjoyed this post so much! Learning about Diwali was fascinating, and I love how you and Paul have adopted some of its tradition as part of your Christmas. Fireworks always make me happy, too! The story of your trip to India is precious!

  14. Thank you for being on the blog hop! You have such beautiful holiday memories, thank you for sharing them with us

  15. What great stories! I love the plant decorated like a tree, and of course the fireworks, too. And I want some of those Indian sweets! Merry Christmas to both of you, and here's to a better 2021.

  16. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful pictures along with your memories. You're a great storyteller. The Rangoli are beautiful. I enjoyed learning more about Diwali. (And that TV gift from your 1st Christmas together being almost as tall as the tree made me chuckle.)

  17. Really enjoyed your post! My Mum is from England, we have a few english traditions still, but they are fading fast. :(

  18. Thanks for sharing your favorite holiday! I loved reading about it xoxo Melanie

  19. why am I crying? your posts are always so well written but I loved this one, I learned so much and remember a novel set in India talking of this tradition. I love our connection. Paul you ole' softie romantic.

  20. Awesome! So fun to read all about your traditions and experiences.

  21. Thanks for sharing your Diwali memories, Preeti! Is it my imagination is Paul looking younger than ever?

  22. I really enjoyed your post. I worked with an Indian woman for years and she told us little bits about her holidays and feasts. But I don't remember the rangoli; those are so pretty! Happy Holidays to all.

  23. Wonderful post, memories and stories. Great read, thanks for sharing Preeti.

  24. What an education I received reading this post. Very interesting and fun to read. This was a good idea of Bernie's.

  25. Preeti, thank you for sharing your Diwali traditions and how wonderful that your family made Paul feel welcome by finding Christmas lights and a tree. I knew nothing about rangoli and need to read more about them. May your holidays be bright and may the new year bring us hope and rebirth. We could all use it.

  26. Hi Preeti! Aww, thank you so much for sharing the traditions of India and Diwali with us. I love everything about this post - the lights, the big plant tree, all the pictures with you and/or Paul with your family. I hope you do get to celebrate with your Mom next year. {{Hugs}} Paul is definitely a keeper. Merry Christmas and Happy Diwali to both of you. ~smile~ Roseanne

  27. Your Rangoli are so wonderful, especially with the candles added. HOORAY for traditions. We can honor them no matter where we happen to be. Terrific post - Merry Christmas!

  28. What delightful memories. I'm glad so much of your family will be here to celebrate next year, too.
    We had wonderful Christmases with singing, trees, large meals. Actually, almost every meal of the year meal between family and friends. And the stockings! I loved them and loved the little presents and sweets tucked inside.
    Happy Diwali to you, Preeti. And congrats on snagging a trophy husband.

    1. Preeti,
      Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful childhood memories. I feel honored to be learning about you, your trophy husband, and lovely family.

  29. Preeti, these were both the sweetest memories! Thank you for sharing :)

  30. Thanks for sharing your memories. I saw Rangoli in India two years ago when I was there for the Ganesh festival. It's so detailed and beautiful. Hoping that someday in the future, I'll be able to visit again.

  31. The Rangoli are beautiful as is the dazzling display of light and color. What a joyous festival. I love your conversations with Paul and your joy! Such fun reading about everything you have done and experienced and now I get to experience a tiny bit with your words - thank you.

  32. Lots of fun memories of both holidays. You and Paul seem to have found a great way to blend both holidays into your family traditions. Memories may be different from this year with the pandemic, but at some point we'll all look back and take the best from the year no matter what.

  33. I love this so much! I am so glad that you and Paul found each other. The world would be a kinder place if everyone could experience a love like yours. The Rangoli are fascinating to me. Some of them are so elaborate, they look like beautiful quilts. And they're made of colored sand? How do you get the sand into those designs with such precision, without the colors mixing up on you? All of that work goes into them, and then they're just gone at the end of Diwali or is there some way to save them year to year? I think it's beautiful the way that you and Paul honor one another's holiday traditions. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  34. it would be lovely if in one of your future posts you would explain the shape and how Rangouli is related to your holiday. We don't have that here, so help us please with this. Educate us. Thank you.

  35. Your post is so interesting and it is lovely to learn about different cultures and traditions. I have followed your blog for quite some time now and apologise that I do not often comment especially as you inspired me to make a big International Sisters quilt for my elder daughter's 50th birthday this year.
    Recently an Indian family moved in next door to me and I now have the best neighbours I could ever wish for so I am learning so much from 2 sources. My neighbour wants to me to teach her to quilt.. Yeah! and offers in return to teach me Indian cooking, bigger YEAH!!!
    Have a great Christmas and here's hoping the world sorts itself out in 2021
    Jo in Liverpool, England

  36. It is so much fun to read this post! So many things I did not know! Happy Holidays to you and Paul!

  37. Oh how wonderful... I am jealous! I have celebrated Diwali for several years, ever since I met a wonderful student at the college I was working for at the time. He brought me some sweets to share and told me the story of Diwali and said his Mom would be so proud of him to celebrate in Canada with his counsellor. He was so far from home and very homesick, so I listened to him talk about home and ate the rasmalai that he brought for me. Ever since, I celebrate to honour the courage he showed and the light he brought to me that day. Such a special celebration, but I know I do not do it the traditional way, but I set out sweets to share, and light candles and lots of sparkle lights. I enjoyed seeing how your family celebrates!

  38. I just wanted to wish you and yours a most wonderful Christmas. May 2024 bring you good health and much happiness.