The Indian festival of Diwali is celebrated on the new moon typically in October, sometimes falling in November. In North America, the new moon appeared last Saturday on the 17th.
On Diwali, it is customary to clean the house, string up lights, launch fireworks and share sweets. My mom's habit is to make sure we don't accept sweets from anyone in case they're drugged (-.-') We lit our own deewey this year. A deewa is a small clay lamp filled with oil and a wick that you can light once it is dark, or at the first sight of the moon, and you let them burn through the night. There is more celebration in larger Indian communities, usually a mela or festival, retelling of the stories, mock battles and plays.
This year, President Obama lit a deeva in honor of Diwali. Here is his Diwali message:
Many Indians celebrate Diwali as the festival of lights and the victory of knowledge over ignorance. They are often associated with specific events in the histories of several different religions.
If you have ever heard of the epic Ramayan, Diwali celebrates the return of King Ram after defeating the evil Ravan. It is also associated with Krishna's defeat of the demon king Narakasur.
In Sikhism, Diwali is associated with the release of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji. Guruji, along with 52 Hindu kings and princes, was imprisoned for political reasons by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. After meeting Guruji in person, Emperor Jahangir had gained respect for him and granted his release. However, Guru Hargobind would only leave Fort Gwalior if the Hindu kings could accompany him. Emperor Jahangir gave Guruji his wish with the condition that he could take as many kings with him as could grab onto his coat tails. So Guruji commissioned a shawl with a long tail and 52 tassels for each of the kings. He walked out of the fort with 52 Hindu rajas gripping onto his clothes. He arrived in Amritsar on Diwali, where the Harminder Sahib, the Golden Temple, was lit with divas. This event is called Bandi Chhore Divas, the day of the release of prisoners.
Happy Diwali, everyone!