Diwali etiquette for non-Hindus

By 08:16

So you’ve been invited to celebrate Diwali with some Hindu friends. How exciting! It probably also feels a bit daunting with all the different foods and traditions you’re used to. Fear not! I’m here to teach you some Diwali etiquette that’ll have you fitting in with the Hindus.

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There is religious significance for Diwali but it’s also a celebration of light and colour. It would be great if your dress reflects this. It’s a fun experience if you have an opportunity to dress up in Indian wear with all the accessories. Most Indians wouldn’t mind lending you an outfit for the occasion. But if you don’t have anything Indian to wear, dress up in your most bright and colourful clothing that isn’t revealing and put on lots of jingly jewellery. Stay away from black clothing – remember we’re celebrating the victory of light over darkness.

With all the fun, over-indulgence and fireworks, it’s easy to forget that Diwali is actual a day of religious observance. With all prayer days, Hindus abstain for animal flesh and alcohol. So be aware that the food served will probably be vegetarian. I know that many cultures consider a meal incomplete without meat. I went to a friend’s house where guests loudly complained about the lack of meat. I think that is really rude but that’s why I’m writing this. It’s good to know about the differences in cultures upfront – especially if something is that important to you.

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Bringing a gift for the host
It’s common Western etiquette for guests to bring a bottle of wine to someone’s house. That’s a big no-no for Diwali. Hindus will not be serving alcohol so if wine is your go-to “gift” when visiting someone it’s time to get creative with other ideas. Many Hindus bring along a plate of their homemade Diwali treats to share with the host’s family. But you’re more than welcome to bring along some shop bought goodies (that don’t include eggs), flowers or incense. It’s important as a guest to also be your authentic self so those aren’t your thing, bring along whatever gift you prefer as long as it’s respectful and appropriate for the occasion. Indians love giving and receiving gifts so you’ll probably leave with a decorated plate, tray or box of sweetmeats and biscuits for you to savour at home.

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Aarti and Pooja
If you’re lucky enough to be invited when your host is performing their prayers and offerings to God, it’s important to be mindful of the session. Most people have different ways that they pray so take your cue from your host. Take off your shoes outside the room that the prayer is performed, ensure you appropriately dressed, quietly meditate if you do not know the bhajans that everyone is singing along to and ask for help if you want to perform aarti too. People will love showing you how.

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Depending on where your hosts live, they might be able to celebrate the evening with fireworks displays. If you want to bring your own fireworks, ask the hosts whether they are allowed to light fireworks in their neighbourhood. If they are, you’re in for such a treat. It’s magical to watch the sky light up in vibrant colours. And there are the playful sparklers that everyone will have fun twirling around. If you’re not used to fireworks, it’s best to be safe and let the experienced among you light them. 

Above all, it’s about celebrating the day with family and friends. Be mindful of the points I raised but don’t fret too much. Have fun and have a happy and blessed Diwali!

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