Diwali Traditions + Activities to Observe the Festival Locally

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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 harvest, and coincides with the new moon between the lunar month 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 US. It is a fixture on New York-North New Jersey’s multicultural calendar, celebrated by vibrant South Asian communities. This year, although public Diwali celebrations are suspended due to the pandemic, the holiday can still be carried out with social distancing in mind. For those curious about Diwali traditions, we have rounded up a list of local fun activities to observe the festival.

how to celebrate diwali jersey city

House Cleansing and Decorating

how to celebrate diwali jersey city

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, a much-needed practice with how much time we are spending at home.

Read More: Indian Food in Journal Square: Sapthagiri Jersey City

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 also 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.

Join a {Virtual} Indian Dance Class

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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. Also, check out Jersey City Public Library Facebook page for Diwali-themed choreography for kids, which will be released in a series over the next week.

Shopping Locally

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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 markets, Apna Bazar Jersey City {2975 John of Kennedy Boulevard, Jersey City } and Patel Brothers {780-782 Newark Avenue, Jersey City} both have big ongoing Diwali promotions. Pick up a small Diya {oil lamp} after filling up on nuts, spices, and dried fruit, snacks profusely consumed during Diwali.

Eat Indian Food

hoboken indian food soul curry

^ Soul Curry Hoboken

Food is an essential part of the Diwali celebration. Little morsels of fried snacks {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 consists of creamy dals, aromatic curries, puffy fritters fried in ghee, and a smooth, richly-spiced pudding.

See More: A Guide to Indian Food in Hoboken + Jersey City

For snacks, head to Rajbhog Sweets {812 Newark Avenue, 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. 

Don’t Forget Indian Sweets

how to celebrate diwali jersey city

{Photo credit: @mymithaas}

Mithai, or Indian sweets,  are another important and perhaps most looked forward part of the Diwali food tradition. The sweets come in countless variations but are all easily enjoyable {if you haven’t tried them} 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 {795 Newark Ave, 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 for those who are really hungry.

Tune Into 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 her most recent episode she and her guest talk about Diwali and how they are celebrating.

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.