I’ve been lucky enough to spend Diwali in Delhi with the family who’ve been hosting me. It’s the biggest festival of the Hindu calendar and is often described as “the Indian Christmas”. I was interested to see how it compared.
The first thing I noticed was a certain similarity in the days beforehand. First lots of lights are put up all over the buildings. Then friends started popping round to bring gifts, and we also went calling on people to give them theirs. But there were differences too. In the UK, Christmas lights tend to be themed: the best ones replicating icicles hanging from roofs, or the stars, angels and trees of municipal lights; the worst being the garish neon Santas and snowmen in people’s front gardens. In India, Diwali lights are just themselves, some white, mostly coloured, covering every building. From flats, people hang loops and strings from the balconies and windows – the apartment blocks look like they’ve vomited light from every orifice.
There’s a difference with the present-giving too, in that the presents are always opened immediately, in front of the giver, even though it’s not Diwali yet. In the UK, of course, the rule is that you can’t open presents until Christmas Day, so although people bring them round in the days leading up, as they do here, you stack them unopened beneath the tree, which adds to the anticipation of Christmas Day itself. Here there didn’t seen to be anywhere near as much build-up and excitement before Diwali, so I was wondering what the day itself would be like, when the presents are already open and there’s nothing much to do. Would it be a bit of an anticlimax?