What it was like Celebrating Diwali in Lockdown

For many Hindu students, this year was the first time they spent Diwali away from home. This never seems to be met with the same ‘shock horror’ response as a student spending Christmas away from home, but for those of us used to spending Diwali with our family and friends, this felt like a big deal.

Diwali is truly a family festival. The festivities start a few days earlier by decorating the house with flowers, diyas (earthen lamps) and rangoli (a display of coloured powder). On Diwali itself, we start the evening by gearing up in traditional Indian attire and then taking some time to visit the temple to pray as a family. Throughout the day we also make phone calls to my grandparents and many other relatives celebrating in India to wish everyone peace and happiness. This is an occasion when all are welcome so before long many family friends arrive at our home to share good wishes along with some Indian sweets. My Mum typically spends days preparing a lavish spread of Indian food for everyone to feast upon. We spend time enjoying each other’s company as it begins to get dark, which marks the moment to gather on the front lawn to enjoy a firework show put on by my Dad whilst tracing our names in the sky with sparklers.

The thing that always felt special about our Diwali celebrations at home was the sense of community within our small gatherings. Because when I would go outside, to the supermarket, or school, it just appeared to be a normal day. Everyone would be going about their everyday business. People would scarcely pause to wish a ‘Happy Diwali.’ But as soon as I got home to the twinkling lights, aroma of spices and chatter of Hindi it made me feel part of something. Celebrating alone definitely lost that for me.

I hadn’t had the foresight to predict another lockdown so didn’t pack any Indian clothes with me when I moved out of home. This immediately made the day feel a little bit off beat. We had a family zoom call (which took a few attempts to make sure no one was muted) and soon discovered that the zoom lag ensures there is no way to pray in sync with one another. My parents sent over some Indian sweets which I could share with my friends, but after coming to the realisation that nothing will ever live up to my Mum’s cooking, I stuck with my usual mediocre pasta for dinner. This year I settled with catching glimpses of other people’s fireworks through my bedroom window, although I managed to dig out a tealight to bring a little bit of the Diwali spirit to my evening.

There’s no doubt that Diwali was different this year but we stayed indoors and didn’t celebrate with our loved ones in order to keep more families safe from the virus. If that doesn’t embody the true meaning of Diwali then I don’t know what does.