A Diwali Christmas
By Rajat Soni
The holiday season is winding down, and things are finally returning to normal. The neighborhood is strewn with deflated Santa Clauses and half-strung Christmas lights. Right around this time, rather than feeling sad, I am happy to see things calm down. After all, at this point, I’ve have had innumerable conversations with both my 8- and 4-year-old daughters about what Santa brought, why he didn’t consider other options, why he didn’t complete the list, which all culminate in a spirited one-sided discussion in which they inform me what he should consider bringing next Christmas — which is only 11 months away!
I was raised as a Hindu by two parents who strongly believed in science and American culture. As a result of mixing these two features of our childhood, my parents were avid celebrants of Christmas, without any concern for the fact that the holiday belonged to an entirely different religious tradition. I think my parents were drawn to the newness of Christmas and the opportunity it allowed us to fit in to life in the US. I’ve passed the same tradition down to my children.
But with the children surrounded by more presents than necessary, and confronted time and again by a world full of suffering children, I always feel an urge to have learned something from the holiday season. As usual, I come away from it feeling that we bent too much to the consumer pull to spend money on things we probably don’t need. I look back and realize what we actually enjoyed about the holiday period was the free time with our family and friends. I love lighting up the house and seeing our neighborhood colored in light.
That is, I find the things I like about Christmas are its Diwali-esque features.
It’s not really fair for me to impose some kind of anti-Christmas or anti-festival sentiment on my children, so I don’t do that. But I have to say, as a father, I find myself pulled ever more toward Diwali and away from Christmas. It’s not really on religious grounds; because of my large family in India, my feelings about Diwali combine the best features of American Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July (though it’s obviously not a celebration of independence). But with Diwali, you get to everything wrapped into one festival.
My recollections of Diwali include family parties, casual card-playing, food and the cool weather of late October or November. Often, when I was a child, Diwali was our trip to India, so it was tied into the very idea of the country, its culture, and even identity for me. Looking back into the more recent past, this is still true. Lighting fire crackers with my daughter on the roof of a flat in Delhi is one of our great, shared experiences.
So as the holidays wrap up and the new year proceeds, I feel the need to push toward a more “Diwali-like” Christmas next year — one built on fewer tangible presents and more experiences and family-time. I want to find some kind of melding of the two cultural traditions that give this time of year a more meaningful feel. But we’ll have to see, I suppose. Kids have the power, like a giant flooding river, to crush all parenting intentions whenever they feel like it. So perhaps a year from now we’ll again be talking about What Santa Brought. Early signs are pointing in that direction, after all.