Celebrating Deepavali: Away From Home

Photo by Souravi Sinha on Unsplash

Deepavali is referred to as the Festival of Lights. Deepavali, like most Malaysian festivals, its a day for people of all races and religions to come together with lively open houses, fireworks displays, and a broad variety of Indian cuisine with family and friends. What if you are studying abroad in a foreign country on your own? Living in a new country and adjusting to a new environment, especially at this prosperous time of year, is undoubtedly difficult. Keeping up with traditions becomes more difficult, especially with the different time zones to which one must adapt.

Anesha, Karthik, and Jothi are three people who live far away from their homeland but continue to keep their family's Deepavali tradition, in their own unique way. Here is how they will be celebrating Deepavali this year.

Over the last 2 years, Anesha, a 25-year-old marine biologist major studying in Hawaii, says it has been difficult to celebrate Deepavali without her family. Anesha explains that she is a family-oriented person and that adjusting to a new lifestyle in a different country was truly life-changing. “Celebrating online virtually was a new experience for me and it was certainly a new experience for my family back home as well,” says Anesha. When she was back in Malaysia, she would begin the day by going to the temple for morning prayers with her family, followed by an open house where her friends and family would gather to enjoy her mother's exquisite dishes. Anesha says, “the one thing that I miss the most about celebrating Deepavali with my family back in Malaysia is my mother’s cooking”. She also mentions creating her own tradition with her close friends in Hawaii. She says she generally decorates the house and makes murukku, a traditional Indian crispy delicacy, with her friends in Hawaii. Anesha says that she holds her tradition close to her heart because it makes her feel like she's celebrating with her family back home.

Karthik, a 27-year-old student, is currently studying in New Zealand. He has been in New Zealand for almost a year. Karthik maintains strong bonds with his friends in Malaysia, where he grew up. “I had previously travelled abroad and did not notice much of an impact; however, I began to miss my friends and it took some time for me to adjust as well as to adapt when I initially arrived here,” says Karthik. Karthik also discusses his yearly Deepavali routine, which would normally take place back home in Malaysia. “The first thing that I would do is wake up early in the morning and head straight to the cinema with my friends to watch Kollywood actor Vijay’s movie, which is typically released on Deepavali”. He also mentions that his entire friend group would pre-purchase movie tickets online, as it has to be the first day, the first show to watch actor Vijay’s movie. “This was a routine that my friends and I had established over the years, and it had to be the first day, the first show on Deepavali day,” says Karthik. He also misses his friends tremendously, and this year he plans to celebrate virtually with them. Karthik shares, “celebrating virtually is something we are adapting to and I love my friends who have taken the effort to celebrate with me virtually on this auspicious day”.

Homesickness gets the best of all of us while we're away from home, and Jothi understands how it feels. Jothi, 26, is currently pursuing her Master’s of Environmental Science in New Zealand and she has been away from home for almost a year. Jothi has always been surrounded by family and friends, but things have changed for her when she moved to New Zealand to further her education. “I miss celebrating Deepavali with my family, and I miss the routine that will take place on Deepavali throughout the day,” says Jothi. She shares that on the day of Deepavali, her whole family wakes up early to get ready for the morning prayers and right after that everyone will dawn their new Deepavali traditional outfits for the celebration. She explains that on Deepavali, her entire family gets up early to prepare for morning prayers, and then everyone dresses up in their new Deepavali traditional clothing for the celebration. Right after the morning prayers, Jothi says that she will be helping her mom prepare for lunch as there will be guests coming in during lunchtime. Jothi adds that after morning prayers, she would assist her mother in preparing for lunch because there will be guests arriving at lunchtime. “My entire family is vegetarian, so my mother will create a variety of vegetarian Indian cuisines; it was a lot of food, but I enjoyed every minute of assisting my mother in preparing the delicious dishes”, says Jothi. She also mentions that at night, everyone will gather at her aunt's house for dinner and to play with fireworks. Jothi also describes her first Deepavali celebration away from home.“Last year was the first time I celebrated with my family virtually, and I couldn't stop crying because it was such a painful moment for me” says Jothi. She says that it was not easy, as one can truly know when one is away from home.“While we were video calling, we did the best we could to share that moment celebrating together virtually and make the best out of it because that is how much we value as well as respect our tradition.” says Jothi.

It is difficult to celebrate away from home. Family traditions are significant and play a vital role in one's life. Getting a glimpse and understanding how these individuals make it work, may help one get some ideas of how to celebrate away from home.

By: Reshma Kavtri


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