Growing up, Diwali always translated into food coma, large gatherings, new set of clothes, and a heightened sense of well-being — from all the sugar, chatting, and noise. My mother was an excellent cook, we were all foodies, and my family was very social. So the dozen homemade mithais, massive quantities of delicacies on the table, and innumerable people in and out of our homes made sense.
Mom would remind us to always celebrate festivals with gratitude, generosity, and open-heartedness. It meant that a family had seen good health and prosperity all year long and should share that with others. No two years are the same so celebrate when you can, was her philosophy. I never understood the depth of her statement until 2020 hit and mayhem took over our lives.
This year, Diwali falls on a Saturday. In the pre-COVID world, that would have been such a treat. But the days of the week have somewhat become immaterial during the pandemic. Because the majority of us are trying to be responsible and socially conscious, celebrations will be smaller or none this year. I have always been big on festivals, but between the pandemic, school commitments, and pledge to do right by others (not congregate in large groups), the festive season will feel different.
In 2019, my husband, brother, and I spent Diwali with my father in India. I still salivate thinking about all the mithais. This year, I have school on November 14 and 15, the Diwali weekend. And the week leading up to Diwali, I am doing two massive speaking engagements and one event outside of my day job. Did I mention that I have a group study for Ayurveda School on Dhanteras evening? So, we are doing a small Diwali dinner at home. Fewer than a dozen people — part of our safety pod during the pandemic. On November 15 evening, once done with my classes, we will go out to dinner with two friends in our neighborhood. We will dress-up, do pooja, eat some good food, and express our gratitude for the circle of warmth. 2020 has felt bleak on many days, so I am doubly grateful for moments and people who have brought light into our lives.
Celebrations are not about how many people you invite or visit. It certainly has nothing to do with the number of dishes served on the table or the jewelry you bought on Dhanteras. Use this Diwali as an opportunity to work on the darkness within. Let us remember that Diwali is about kindness, love, compassion, and being present for others. It is the victory of good over evil. This year, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Zoom calls will have to suffice for the majority of our connections. But it is heartening to know that the only consistent thing in this world is change. We don’t know what 2021 will be like. So, let’s not assume that it will only be worse.
I asked Hong Kong-based Dona Pal, who has an MA in clinical psychology and is a counselor at Singapore International School, for her professional suggestions about the emotions around Diwali.
She said, “This year has been strange and unique. While it shook us and turned the most given and granted around its head, like hugging or swimming or eating together — it also inadvertently made us look deeply within. Looking inward may not be easy as it can bring up feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Holiday season, celebrations and festivals can sometimes evoke expectations of popular belief of merry-making, gathering, and traveling! Not being able to be with family and loved ones can be lonesome and excruciating! So how do we both tolerate and deal with this…?
“Awareness is learning to keep yourself company,” says Geneen Roth, who has written much about eating disorders.
Engage with your emotions rather than avoid them.
Take time to understand where the loneliness is stemming from and what care and connections you are craving.
Binge eating (leading to eating disorders) may get common during festive times as the loneliness is compensated through stuffing oneself.
Stay safe and consider celebrating with your safety pod bubble. It’s okay to say a NO if you do not feel safe attending a Diwali party during the pandemic. Do not feel pressured to distribute gifts and mithai. If you are reading this, remember you are a lucky person who made it through 2020. We all know plenty of people who have lost a loved one this year to COVID and/or their livelihood.
I’d like to wish you all a very Happy Diwali! Hope these profound words from London-based psychotherapist Sunita Pattani will help shift your perspective:
“Even though it may not be the same, we can still try and make it meaningful. Do the cooking, get dressed up, organize a virtual meeting/phone calls with your family. There will be a difference, but perception is everything. With Diwali being the festival of light, it may be a good idea perhaps to reflect on what “light” means to you. In which ways can you/do you connect with the light? Perhaps take some time to express some gratitude for the light that is in your life.”
There is no denying that there is evil in this world, but the light will always conquer the darkness. ~ Idowu Koyenikan