Diwali is a festival which is celebrated in India and Nepal. While it is particularly sacred to Hindus, practitioners of other Indian religions also celebrate it, and Jainist, Hindu, and Sikh communities all over the world commemorate the holiday with smaller festivals of their own. The timing of this holiday varies, since it is based on the Hindu lunar calendar, but it is generally celebrated in the fall. Diwali festivities in India involve everyone, not just the religious faithful, and the holiday is a major event in the Indian year.
The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil; in Hindi, Diwali means “festival of lights,” and people light rows of lights to commemorate heroic figures in Indian mythology who triumphed over the forces of evil. It is also a propitious time for new endeavors, and many people clean their homes and open all their windows and doors to welcome luck and good fortune during Diwali. The exchange of gifts is also traditional during this holiday, and many people host dinners and parties.
Regional traditions vary immensely when it comes to celebrating Diwali, because each community has developed its own unique way of celebrating this holiday. Technically, the holiday is actually five days long, with each day representing a different facet of the festival of lights. In many communities, people pick one day of Diwali in particular to celebrate, often with fireworks and other large public festivities.
Numerous myths and stories are associated with Diwali. Many of these myths center around the defeat of evil demons, or the exoneration and freedom of wrongfully oppressed people. The holiday celebrates religious elevation and enlightenment as well. Many festivals also honor specific Hindu gods like Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesha, the god of auspicious or new beginnings. In many regions of India, people also exchange traditional Diwali greetings when they encounter each other on the street; these greetings express a mutual desire for good luck and fortune in the coming year.
If a person happens to be visiting India during Diwali, he or she should be prepared to be swept up in the festivities. Many communities essentially shut down for the celebrations, and it's a great opportunity to learn about Indian history and culture first hand. Many people are happy to share their religious and cultural traditions with curious and respectful visitors. Diwali is also quite fun, with fireworks, performances, dinners, and other events for celebrants. In other regions of the world, people can visit Indian communities to see the festivals on a smaller scale.