Is Diwali the new Christmas? the Commercialization of a Festival

Walmart selling Diwali goods. PHOTO

In the intricate mosaic of the Indian American and South Asian diaspora flourishing in the United States, the contemporary narrative of Diwali takes an enthralling turn.

Gone are the days when grandparents told stories of the lessons from the texts that they learned from their family, or through the makeshift stages that dotted many landscapes during the festival season.

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, meaning ‘row of lights’ is all about the victory of light over darkness or good over evil, and several religions espouse it -Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists. It commemorates marvelous legends and myths, including the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating  Ravana who kidnapped Rama’s betrothed Sita, the killing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna, and the Jain celebration of Lord Mahavira attaining nirvana.

Instead of learning about epic battles from mythological sagas, today’s children witness a commercial spectacle in retail outlets. Diwali-themed discounts and Indianized renditions of popular products and desserts now share the spotlight.

Fireworks, once exclusive to the 4th of July, grace the shelves of major retailers like Costco, during the Diwali season, accompanied by enticing offers from Williams Sonoma and Target. Even publications such as Good Housekeeping contribute to cultural recognition by curating lists like the “25 Best Diwali Gift Ideas for 2023.”

Beyond the realm of commerce, Diwali’s influence extends to prestigious settings like the White House, Governor’s mansions, and local community gatherings. While some school districts acknowledge the festival with a day off, the depth of conversations within schoolyards raises questions about whether students gain more than just an additional holiday.

Amidst these critiques, a growing awareness of the substantial contributions of Indian Americans emerges across diverse professional domains, from senior political leadership to representation in the judiciary system, healthcare, and even space exploration. It is no small feat that several states and counties across the country have declared Diwali as an event of significance.

The aspiration is for the normalization and integration of diverse cultures, with the hope that subsequent generations will experience heightened awareness and acceptance. Although racial challenges persist, spanning from playgrounds to boardrooms, celebrations like Diwali offer an opportunity for each passing year to foster a greater appreciation for contributions that transcend superficial differences.

In the spirit of a ‘90s movie quote, that “just because [we] talk with an accent, does not mean [we] think with an accent.” While accents may evolve with each passing generation, the desire remains that some aspects of cultural uniqueness endure.

Whether we choose a path of religion or that of culture, the Hindu texts and stories teach us lessons of community, family, and values.

In a world grappling with issues of isolation, loneliness, and mental health, the importance of centralized concepts on community becomes indispensable. These ancient texts also celebrate female power, a crucial aspect seemingly lost in our more recent society.

As we navigate the complexities of modern existence, Diwali stands as a beacon, guiding us back to the profound lessons embedded in our cultural heritage—a timeless source of wisdom that can bridge generations and foster a sense of belonging and shared humanity.  These are the lessons that our children would benefit from learning and living, it is so much more than just the ephemeral burst of fireworks!



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