As a second-generation Indian-American, I am often in conflict with how to teach my own son about cultural festivals. I want him to make a personal connection with the festivals because that’s how children learn best. I have found that children often seem to get confused with the traditional folktales that surround cultural festivals such as, Diwali, and miss the moral of the story.
I start with concrete concepts and then move them towards more abstract concepts. Before having them light candles, it’s important to talk to children about significance of the festival. Many times children have no idea why they are celebrating it. This just leads to more ignorance about their culture and the whole point of Diwali is to “light” up their minds with knowledge —and to dispel ignorance.
To make it more concrete, parents can start by literally putting them in the “dark” and talking more about what that signifies. Have children sit in a dark room. What does it feel like to be in the dark? Does it feel scary because they can’t see anything? Is it confusing because they are not sure where they are or where they can go? For older children you can extend it to asking what the phrase “being left in the dark” means? Also, bring in different artists and how they use dark colors to signify moods such as sadness (e.g., Picasso’s Blue period).
After having them in the dark, you can introduce the concept of light. You may want to use a candle or flashlight and bring their attention to it. What does it feel like to have light in the room? Does it provide them with a sense of comfort? Do they feel like they have more control over what they can do? Can the see where they need to go? Discuss how artists use light colors to bring forth happier emotions (e.g., Picasso’s Rose period).
Now comes the moral or the lesson. During Diwali, we use lights to think more about how we can move away from the darkness in our lives (maybe these are feelings of sadness or confusion for children) in order to bring more “light” into our lives. We think more about how we can be happier. We think more about where we are (academically, socially, and emotionally) and where we need to be in our future. We think of our own life and how to be responsible by making the right decisions in life.
Ultimately, we want children to understand these abstract concepts. The festival of lights is about our own “inner light” (figuratively) and thus, signifies a more spiritual meaning. Diwali calls attention to our inner consciousness and provides us with a time to acknowledge our own “inner light.” For children, we must teach them how to open up their hearts and minds to good thoughts, words, and deeds. Through mindfulness activities that are created specifically for children, we can lead them to an awareness that they did not have had before.This will lead children on a path from darkness to light and provide them with joy and happiness in their lives.
Some popular stories to share with children when they are ready to learn more about the festival (adapted versions to help children relate to this festival).
The literal translation of Diwali is a “row of lights.”
Diwali is like the Indian “Christmas” because it is a very BIG celebration for Indians. Indians light up their homes so that Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) will follow the “row of lights” into their home.
People make rangoli designs, light candles, share sweets, buy new clothes, wear new jewelry, and get together with close family and friends. This tradition dates back to the olden times when farmers had just finished their harvest and prayed to Goddess Lakshmi for good crops (and more wealth!) next year.
Another popular story is about Lord Rama. An evil demon kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita. Sita leaves a trail of her jewelry for Rama. Lord Rama follows the jewelry or the “row of lights” and defeats the evil demon.
So for Diwali, we light up our homes to welcome him home and to celebrate his victory. We also use lights to remember that light always triumphs over dark and good always triumph over evil.
Diwali Resources for Children: stories, coloring pages, arts and crafts, and more.
Resources for Teachers & Parents: lesson plans, mini-units, and more.