Beautifully-lit oil lamps, a cheerful exchange of gifts, lavish desserts from ghee-soaked laddoos to nut-studded rice puddings, happy Diwali! The annual five-day festival, Diwali, is one of the most extravagantly celebrated festivals in South Asia. Diwali is widely observed by members of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths. It usually falls in late October or early November, around the time of the harvest, and coincides with the new moon between the lunar months of Ashwin and Kartika. Oil lamps are lit to symbolize light driving away from the darkness, and people meet each other to exchange gifts and good wishes.
More recently, Diwali has also become a cultural event that is increasingly gaining prominence in the United States. It is a fixture on New York-North New Jersey’s multicultural calendar, celebrated by vibrant South Asian communities. For those curious about Diwali traditions, we have rounded up a list of local fun activities to observe the Diwali festival in the greater Hoboken and Jersey City area.
House Cleansing and Decorating
In the days leading up to Diwali, celebrants often prepare by deep cleaning and decorating their houses. Legend has it that Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, only graces clean and tidy homes. This year, home cleaning has taken on greater significance, and not only because the pandemic calls for extra attention to sanitation. Decluttering and cleaning also help manage stress and boost mood.
After cleaning, the houses are lit with Diya, or oil lamps — which can be bought at local ethnic markets, such as Apna Bazar Jersey City. Many people decorate their floors with rangoli, intricate patterns made of candles, colored rice, or flower petals. In fact, rangoli-making can be a bonding activity that all family members, including small children, can participate in. Here is a fun guide on how to make rangoli with all-natural dyes.
The Art of Indian Dance Class
To get into the upbeat Diwali mood, join an Indian dance class at a local dance studio. Shehnaaz Dance Academy in Jersey City, for example, holds regular classes teaching various genres of dances, including Bhangra and Bollywood, as well as fitness classes with Indian dance choreography. During the lead-up to Diwali, there are sessions featuring choreography to famous Bollywood tracks.
Diwali is one of India’s biggest shopping occasions, during which businesses often launch Diwali promotions to boost sales. To find out what South Asian specialty goods are out there, head to Newark Avenue in the Journal Square area, where local jewelers have elaborate displays of ruby-studded earrings, bracelets, and maang tikka (head pendant). For something with lower price tags, check out the South Asian groceries in this area.
The two biggest Jersey City markets, Apna Bazar Jersey City, located at 2975 John of Kennedy Boulevard, and Patel Brothers, 780-782 Newark Avenue, both have big ongoing Diwali promotions. Pick up a small Diya (an oil lamp) after filling up on nuts, spices, and dried fruit, snacks profusely consumed during Diwali.
Food is an essential part of the Diwali celebration. Little morsels of fried snacks including samosas, chaat, Pakora, and many more are nibbled throughout the day with masala chai. Rich, elaborately-prepared meals are shared daily among families, which often consist of creamy dals, aromatic curries, puffy fritters fried in ghee, and a smooth, richly-spiced pudding.
For snacks, head to Rajbhog Sweets at 812 Newark Avenue in Jersey City, where you can mix and match small portions of Indian street food cheerfully displayed in glass cases. The eatery also offers Diwali gift boxes for sweet and savory treats. For a full feast, check out this list of local restaurants providing festive Indian dishes from various subcontinent regions.
(Photo credit: @mymithaas)
Mithai, or Indian sweets, are perhaps most looked-forward-to part of the Diwali food tradition. The sweets come in countless variations but are enjoyable for their warm, nutty flavors, thanks to the generous use of ghee, nuts, dried fruit, and tropical spices.
A hugely popular spot for Mithai in Jersey City is Mithaas at 795 Newark Ave in Jersey City. Try the buttery, syrup-soaked gulab jamun soaked in syrup, or kulfi, nutty, aromatic “Indian ice cream” for an indulgent treat. The eatery also has a dazzling selection of savory snacks.
Listen to a Local Podcast
Local resident Raakhee Mirchandani is a mother, editor at Dow Jones, author of the children’s book Super Satya Saves the Day that was inspired by her daughter, and now the host of her podcast show Brown Mom. In an episode from last year, she and her guest talk about Diwali and how they are celebrating.
Diwali Festival | Queens, NY
November 6th | 11AM – 4PM
This festival and dance party will feature Kathak classical dancer Abha Roy and Basement Bhangra’s DJ Rekha. Learn Bollywood, bhangra, and Kathak dance moves with Abha and Rekha, the art of rangoli design with Anju Gupta, explore Indian cooking with Queens Curry Kitchen, and more. Learn more here.
Diwali Black-Tie Benefit Gala | Hilton Short Hills
November 6th | 7PM – 11PM
Alumni of the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Harvard University are celebrating Diwali with an evening of comedy, dinner, and dancing to benefit COVID victims. Learn more here.
Diwali Party on the Cruise with Dinner | Hudson River, NY
November 6th | 7PM– 11PM
This will be a Diwali party from Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty on a luxury nightclub heated yacht. Learn more here.
Children’s Diwali Puppet Show | Jersey City
November 6th | 11AM
This will be an interactive, educational puppet show for children about Diwali. Learn more here.
Diwali COVID Relief Event | North Brunswick Township
November 7th | 5PM – 11PM
This fundraiser will have a live DJ dance performance, and games. Learn more here.