Binoy and Reema Nazareth, originally from Mumbai, arrived in the United States over 20 years ago. Their Diwali celebrations were very different from their home in India, where every house was illuminated with lamps and lights.
Parents of three say this is largely because in the late 90s Indian culture was not as widely accepted or understood here as it is now.
âWe used to go all the way to New Jersey for our groceries, ethnic food,â said Binoy, a Warrington resident who has been married to Reema for 22 years.
âMy uncles and aunts who came here in the 1970s had to drive two hours to get something genuine,â he said.
When it came time to celebrate Diwali, the five-day festival of lights that honors the triumph of good over evil, neighbors were once confused by their decorations – especially the timing, normally tucked away somewhere around Halloween and Xmas.
Its appearance each year follows the lunar calendar, so there is no fixed date.
The festival is huge in India, and the Nazareths compare it to Christmas. This year Diwali, which marks the start of the Hindu New Year, began on Thursday.
âThe first year we turned on the lights outside, and (a neighbor) thought, ‘Why are you putting all these lights outside? âWe would explain that to them and they would be like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing. “”
At the time, it was even difficult to find other Indians nearby. It is now changed. A few houses further on are at least two Indian families and friends of the Nazareths.
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As more and more immigrants have settled in the United States over the past 15 years or so, the Indian population – and the presence of Indian culture – has grown exponentially.
The US Census includes people of Indian descent in its definition of Asian. In 2000, some 13,631 people of Asian descent lived in Bucks County and by 2010 that number had grown to 24,008 and by 2020 it had more than doubled to 35,216 people.
Members of the Indian community said they had moved from struggling to easily find familiar reminders of the house to picking up Diwali tea lights from their local target.
Local fireworks shops even advertise the Diwali holiday, as firecrackers are a key part of the celebrations.
The Nazareths credit children born and raised in the United States for their contribution to the expansion and understanding of their customs in America.
âThe culture is more widely accepted because the younger generation, the second and third generation children here, started to grow up and assimilated into this culture,â Binoy said. “Now they are going into the workforce or going to college.”
Schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University in Philadelphia even have dance troupes that perform Bollywood dances, he shared.
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âEveryone widely accepts this culture now, and that’s probably how we got to where we are now,â Binoy said.
The fact that the younger generation is not afraid to speak out in favor of its culture and the preservation of its traditions, such as the New Hope-Solebury and Central Bucks students who recently fought for a single day off for Diwali in their school districts.
Devika and Nagu Nambi, who live a few houses away from the Nazareths in Warrington, say their eldest son is on a diversity and inclusion panel at Central Bucks West High School.
âHe goes and learns things from other communities and friends, from other races and nationalities,â Nagu said. “He’s at a point now where he’s also able to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,’ and bring friends.”
Preparation for Diwali
Recognized by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists, the common theme of Diwali celebrates good over evil, despite the many existing stories about the origins of the holiday.
âThere are different regions who believe in different reasons,â said Shanthy Krishnarajah, a resident of New Hope and Sri Lankan Hindu. In her culture, the holiday is celebrated on one day instead of five, and she calls it Deepavali.
âMy youngest daughter’s name is Jothika, and Jothi means light, so she tells people it’s a celebration of her, because Diwali is a celebration of light,â she said.
Reema says there’s the story of a king slaying a demon, and his village lights up its streets and homes on the darkest night of the year to make sure he finds his way home.
âThat’s why on Diwali day we light up our whole house, you won’t find a single dark corner,â she said. âAnything bad in your house, anything slightly negative, you just try to push it out of the house. “
Preparations for the holidays can begin weeks in advance at some homes, and include making traditional sweets and foods and creating rangoli, a colorful, flowery art form that symbolizes luck. They are usually placed outside the entrance doors.
âEvery house you go to, you’ll find a rangoli,â Reema said.
Cleaning the house inside and out is the first step in preparations, she said, followed by making a variety of desserts and snacks.
Growing up in Mumbai, Reema remembered the important task of bringing the treats to other families in the neighborhood.
âBack then we were making five or six kinds of things,â she said. “My mom would put it on a tray, then it would be our job to take it to our neighbors.”
Food – and a lot of it – is an important part of Diwali festivities.
The inviting aromas from family kitchens this time of year come from traditional offerings like chickpeas; sweet gram flour balls called besan ladoo; a mixed rice dish called biryani; a dessert made from cashew nuts, refined butter and sugar, called kaju barfi; and a fried bread called puri.
âPuri, it’s like, you take a tortilla, you fry it in oil and then it’s going to puff up,â said Praveena Reddy, a neighbor of the Nazareth and Nambi.
Like Devika and Reema, Praveena is one of the organizers of the Bucks County Diwali celebration on Saturday, where around 150 people gather to enjoy food, music and entertainment at the St. Cyril of Jerusalem Social Hall in Jamison.
âAnyone who lives in Warrington, they can invite all of their family and friends, and we can just come together in one place,â Reema said. “We order all the Indian food, (bring in) the candy we’re supposed to make, and we just get together.”
Building a community
Going from barely knowing another local Indian family to now being part of a community of at least 60 families, Devika says it is “awesome” to share the joy and fun of Diwali celebrations with others, of similar and different cultures.
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âIt’s amazing how this country accepts everyone,â said Devika, who has lived in the United States for 24 years. âIt’s a mutual understanding, and everyone is there with you. It’s a good thing to have.
Like their elders before them, immigrant families want to ensure that their own children are taught the tradition of celebrating the Festival of Lights.
For Praveena, this is a driving force behind her desire to raise awareness of vacations in her community.
âIf we don’t pass on the tradition, then they won’t be able to pass on the tradition,â she said.
She is already seeing the impact of her influence on her daughter, Roma Reddy, who encouraged a friend from school and her family to attend the Bucks County Diwali celebration.
âI met the kid the other day, she (us) was like, ‘We all have clothes in line, we’re all so excited and ready to come to the event!’ âPraveena said.
âIt was really nice to watch,â she said. âHow I convey it to them, that’s how it’s going to spread; otherwise, it will be fair with us.
Community celebration of Diwali scheduled for Sunday in Doylestown
Youth 4 Unity and Desis of Doylestown are hosting a Diwali celebration with music, dancing, crafts and food at Burpee Park at 51 S. Church St. in Doylestown on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.
The leaders of the Desi community as well as the allies of the Desi community will organize the event which is free and open to all.
âDiwali is often overlooked as it is a major holiday for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. We want to give members of Doylestown the opportunity to experience the beauty of Diwali, the festival of lights, “said an organizer,” With the support of Bucks County, NAACP Bucks County, New Americans Advisory Board from Bucks County and many more. influential organizations, we have seen how eager the community is to celebrate Diwali. So we plan to make this Diwali celebration an annual event !. â
Participants are encouraged to wear traditional South Asian clothing.