Celebrating Diwali as a Follower of Jesus

(Editor’s note:  This year, Diwali falls on Monday, October 24th, 2022.) 

Celebration is a gateway to relationship. We find evidence of this every Saturday and Sunday in football stadiums all around the US. The team scores an important touchdown, makes a big stop on defense, or kicks the game winning field goal. What do people do? They high five complete strangers, cheer in unison, or excitedly discuss the plays that they have just witnessed together. Celebration is a gateway to relationship. 

Diwali is one of the largest celebrations in the world. Much of India’s population (1.3 billion people) from many different faith traditions celebrates the ‘Festival of Lights’. This does not even include the Indian diaspora of millions around the globe. Themes of Diwali that are celebrated include the victory of light over darkness, of good over evil, and of a long-anticipated return of a king. 

The Diwali festival gives us as followers of Jesus many opportunities to both begin and deepen our friendships with Hindu people.  We can grow these relationships through the gateway of such a meaningful celebration. This can be so meaningful that I think all followers of Jesus should celebrate Diwali. 

Don’t worry. I have my reasons!

If you are living in India, you can get meaningful time with your neighbors and friends

If you have spent only five minutes in India, you have discovered that India does hospitality very well. This quality only multiplies during the festival season. Ask any neighbor, friend, office mate, or gym acquaintance “I want to bring a gift to your family for Diwali, when should I come?”. You will be flooded with invitations to parties, dinners, and family worship times. Showing genuine interest in one of their most important annual events means a lot. Go with them! Listen to their stories, eat wonderful food and sweets, and have fun. Celebration is a gateway to relationship. 

You can join your Hindu friends in a meaningful event, no matter where you are

Almost all Hindu people in the global diaspora have very strong relational networks back in India. Family, neighbors, school friends and others are all vitally important to your friend’s life. Moving to new places, especially across continents, can be a deeply lonely experience. For many Americans living far from home, the holidays can be a very lonely time. Why would it be any different for our Indian friends living abroad? 

Imagine being thousands of miles away from all your closest relationships. Sure, you can facetime Chachu (Dad’s little brother) or have a zoom call with Maasi (Mom’s sister) and her family. But distance cannot be overcome by technology alone! You cannot taste kaju katli, play teen patti, or re-gift a box of Soan Papdi over zoom. Of course, you cannot replace the role of Chachu or Maasi in your Hindu friend’s life. What you can do, however, is take interest in your friend’s traditions around Diwali and share in the fun! Ask them, ‘What is the story of Diwali? What is meaningful to you? What are some good memories from past Diwalis? Can I join any celebrations with you?” You will certainly learn a lot and your friend will enjoy sharing these things with you. Celebration is a gateway to relationship. 

Symbols, themes, and values of Diwali connect well with devotees to Jesus

Diwali is commonly nicknamed, “the Festival of Lights”. It celebrates light having victory over darkness. Can you think of any scriptures that center around light? I’m sure you can! One of my personal favorites is John 8:12, where shortly after Jesus exposes the self-righteousness of the religious leaders of his day, He declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. Every time I see a diya (oil lamp) burning, I remember His words. Fortunately, there are A LOT of diyas burning during Diwali. 

The imagery of light overcoming darkness is an obvious symbol that we all love. Another meaningful symbol is what I like to call “the return of the King”. In the original Diwali story, a righteous king traveled a long distance to defeat another king who represented evil. This evil king had stolen the righteous king’s wife. After destroying the evil, the righteous king takes back his wife and brings her home. As he came back into his city the people lit the path with diyas to light the way along the road to their capital city, celebrating the return of their king and queen.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I would go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:2-3 

Our King, Lord Jesus, has prepared a place for us in His Kingdom. We were stolen away by evil. He has come on a rescue mission and defeated the evil. He will come again and take us to our place in His Kingdom.

“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20

Is it appropriate for me, a follower of Jesus, to participate in a Diwali event?

Diwali originates from the story of King Ram, a popular deity from ancient Hindu mythology, who rescues his virtuous wife Sita from her kidnapper, the evil king Raavan, and returns together to their capital city. Today, Ram is worshiped by millions of Hindu people, especially in North India. Over the centuries since Diwali was first celebrated in ancient India, other traditions have also built up surrounding the original Diwali festival dates. The most notable is Lakshmi (or Laxmi) puja. Now, Lakshmi puja (a time of worship to the goddess of wealth) is a regular tradition for many Hindus on Diwali night, who pray to Lakshmi for prosperity for the upcoming year. 

As followers of Lord Jesus, of course we cannot actively participate in every aspect of Diwali. Diwali activities will likely include aspects of worship to the goddess Lakshmi, god Ram, and possibly other family deities. It can be difficult to know how to remain faithful to our Lord Jesus and yet honor our Hindu friends at the same time. A great place to start is pray. Ask God for wisdom on how to balance loving your friend while not giving worship to other deities. He will help you.

There is another resource you have available as you navigate this potential uncertainty – your Hindu friend! You can ask them to help you! This can look something like this, “I really want to join you and your family in the Diwali celebration that you invited me to! But I need your help. You know that I am a follower of Lord Jesus, and I am devoted to following only Jesus. I won’t always know what is appropriate for me to do. Can you help not worship any other deity?” Your friend will more than likely be thrilled to help you. They just want to share this important part of their life and the richness of their culture! They almost certainly have a deep respect and appreciation for your devotion to Jesus, and in no way are trying to compromise you or make you uncomfortable. Your Hindu friend is inviting you to celebrate Diwali with them because it’s the best way they know how to love and value you. 

(Editor’s note:  I’ve been told many times, by many Hindu people, that they have invited me to share in their holidays and festivals because they like me and want to include me in their most important traditions. To them, my attendance means that I like them and care about them as friends and means nothing about my interest in their deities. They invite me because they value our friendship, and I come because I care about them.) 

We have such a privilege! The Diwali festival gives us many opportunities to both begin and deepen our friendships with Hindu people.  We can grow these relationships through the gateway of such a meaningful celebration. So high five complete strangers, eat plenty of sweets, connect with your friends, and remember the return of the King is yet to come!

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