This Is How We Celebrated Diwali In Singapore

Posted: November 12, 2015

A mother shares 14 wonderful things she did to celebrate Diwali in Singapore. You can try the same anywhere.

Diwali is that time of the year when Indians who live outside India really miss India. Nothing can compare to the festivities in India. Not even living in a country where there are lots of Indians can make Diwali the same as it is back home.

3 years ago, we had just moved to Singapore and although there are many Indians in Singapore we knew very few people.

Our daughter was just beginning to realise the significance of Diwali and we really wanted to celebrate Diwali at home with lots of people. We wanted her to experience Diwali.

So I hit upon the plan of calling her school friends and the ones in our condominium for a girls’ Diwali party.

My daughter’s school was very multicultural and when I sent the invitation out to the parents’ who I hardly knew, I had to explain what Diwali meant and what we were planning to do. We then had a group of about 8-9 girls all of whom we had known only for a few months, belonging to different countries, of different faiths attending a Diwali party in our little flat. Not only was the party a great success, but the next two years we ended up having similar Diwali parties with more girls and even more fun.

Here are some of the things we did and if you are an Indian in a foreign land, perhaps you could use these tips to make your Diwali fun for your child, his/her friends and of course, for yourself.

  1. The first year, I sent out an invitation by email to the parents of my daughter’s chosen friends (it is hard to choose a small group of friends, but if you have a small house, best to keep the number to how many you can accommodate). I explained that “Diwali is the festival of lights and we would love for you to celebrate with us. Please feel free to come with your child or drop her off and pick her later.” That way I was giving them the option to stay and participate. The following years, my daughter made the invitation cards by hand and decorated them, so days before Diwali we had lots of art and crafts in the house.
  2.  We really wanted everyone to come dressed up for Diwali, so we asked them to come dressed in anything glittery and shiny. A lot of the friends (Australians, Singaporeans, New Zealanders, a Korean, a Thai- Brit) did not have Indian clothes, but some had borrowed Indian wear, some raided my daughter’s cupboard , one girl had worn her mother’s salwar kameez top which was like a maxi on her. Some girls wore just the kameez , like a long dress. Some wore regular western clothes and borrowed a dupatta from my daughter’s cupboard. That is why I never give away any Indian clothes, even if they are short because I know they will come handy for our Diwali parties.
  3. We did the parties straight after school, so the girls came to our home just after school, changed at our place and were ready to celebrate.
  4.  Every year, I made sure that I had at least one mother helping me with the music and generally keeping an eye on the children. The mothers who came with their daughters also chipped in with helping. One year, I borrowed the music player and the CDs from a mother.
  5. My husband helped decorate the house. We bought some rolls of golden paper and made simple lanterns, cutouts of diyas and so on. How to make a paper lantern tutorials exist on the internet and even a child can make them. I made paper flowers (to look like marigolds) out of yellow crepe paper, with help from the internet. I still have these flowers even after 3 years. We made garlands out of these and stuck them all over the living room. My husband even went to Little India (Indian area in Singapore) and got some roses and jasmine flowers. I had a huge bucket with ice and placed these flowers in it for the next. I used the flowers to make a rangoli pattern outside the door and also around the house, next to the diyas. We bought some LED lights (smoke-free, battery operated, plastic lights) that look like diyas and these were a safe option in small space with children running all over.
  6. We bought some real diyas from Little India, but outside India such items are expensive. So we ended up making our own diyas. Yes, we made them and not only that we had a diya making activity. (See later for details on how to make them)
  7.  I had planned activities so that the girls had something to do and which were relevant to Diwali. We had Diya making where we all sat around the centre table in our living room. I placed old newspapers on the table and then showed the girls how to make diyas using modeling clay bought from a shop. The younger ones needed help from the mothers. It was very messy and we used water to mould the clay. A packet of hand wipes on the table helped. Just make a small ball with the clay and making a small hollow in the centre, shape it into a diya with a little beak like projection at one end. Once the diya shape was moulded, I gave them all sorts of colourful glitter and sequins that I had managed to buy at a reasonable price. The girls decorated the diyas and left them to dry. None were perfect, but the girls were so proud of their handiwork. I suggested they could place a tea-light or a candle in it later.
  8.  We had made printouts of Rangoli patterns and gave them the papers to colour in and this was a great filler for between activities. They then took the coloured designs home.
  9.  We played pass the parcel, again around our table. I had made a huge newspaper parcel and every layer had a small gift. Every year I would go to Little India to seek bangles at bargain prices. One year, I had got them from India, well before Diwali. One year we had placed bindi packets in the layers, which works out even more economical and generally I would put in only half a packet to avoid wastage. The music was of course the latest Bollywood numbers.
  10.  We had other party games like musical statues and follow the leader (where one person does a dance step and the others follow her). It was amazing to see my daughter and her friends come up with innovative dance steps to Hindi film music.
  11. Coming to the food, I had to rack my brains to come up with something that an international group of children would appreciate. So I made gajar halwa and put it in little paper cupcake cases, so that there were small portions and no wastage. I made pedas out of condensed milk, milk powder and butter, using the microwave and they were enjoyed by everyone. One year, I took some chocolate biscuits and painstakingly drew ‘mehendi’ designs on them with vanilla icing. Although the mothers admired the designs, the kids didn’t care and just enjoyed the taste of them. I had other regular party food like crisps, juice, jelly and so on, but tried to keep to the Diwali colours like orange, gold, red, purple in the table by choosing bright paper plates, glasses and napkins.
  12. Without spending too much money, every year I tried to give the girls a goodie bag with some sweets and a place to keep the diya safe to take home. One year I bought some cloth bags in different colours. One year, some cardboard boxes.
  13. A lot of the mothers asked if they should be getting something along for the party. They were unsure what the custom is and I just told them to bring their best dance step. Some mothers did bring in cake, something for my daughter and one mother (half Chinese, half French) even went out of her way and bought a beautiful Ganesha decorative plate and some sparklers. One New Zealander mother gave me a scented candle one year.
  14.  I always try to keep religion separate from the celebrations when I do these parties, because I do not want to impose my religious beliefs on someone. Therefore I try to steer away from any religious symbols in the Rangoli designs and select simple floral ones. That is just my way of celebrating my festival and sharing it with someone who does not usually celebrate it, but without compelling them or their children to do anything they may not want to do. At the end of the party, one can imagine what the house looks like. There is glitter everywhere, the smell of flowers is all over, our house has been visited by lovely people who have had a great time and celebrated what is dear to us and there is a joyous feeling. It feels like Diwali. It is quiet outside, but within the house we have created a wonderful atmosphere. My daughter can appreciate Diwali although we are not in India and the next day she looks at the pictures, sometimes even starting to plan for next year’s Diwali!

As for me, my feet ache and I pick glitter from my food, but it’s all been worth it.

This year we are not in Singapore but back to the UK , where a grey cold day is making me nostalgic for last year’s Diwali.

I know I have to make an effort to make it feel like Diwali – not a party this year, but maybe something else – with lots of lights and cheer.

Happy Diwali.

Cover image via Shutterstock

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