Traditional Sweets Are An Important Part Of Diwali Celebrations

Come early October, neighborhoods begin to shimmer with the glow of lights, an array of brightness that could easily be mistaken for early Christmas cheer. But, the luminous display is not for Santa — it heralds the advent of Diwali (or Deepavali or Dipawali), the Indian festival of lights. In this festive tapestry, your Indian neighbors, wearing new clothes and big smiles, present you with decorated diya, or lamps, and a beautiful assortment of traditional Indian sweets, or mithai. These gifts are meant to bring prosperity and goodness into your home.

Diwali is India's biggest holiday, celebrated across India by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs alike as well as in Indian communities worldwide. Feasting is at the heart of Diwali (unlike some other Indian festivals that involve fasting) along with an exchange of lights, gifts, and, most delightfully, sweets, which symbolize love, joy, and appreciation. These traditional Indian sweets are often made with condensed milk, ghee, nuts, sugar, fruit, and a base that may include vegetables like grated carrots. A favorite among mithai is the gulab jamun, a deep-fried but soft and dense ball of sweetened condensed milk soaked in sugary syrup. Another popular mithai is the jalebi, which looks like a bite-sized funnel cake. Each bite of jalebi delivers a sweet syrup that coats the tongue and tastes like cardamom and honey.

Confections of culture: The enduring sweetness of Diwali celebrations

As Diwali approaches this year, with its slated celebration on November 12th, the anticipation is palpable across India and worldwide. The air will be thick with the aroma of spices and sweetness. Among the sweet treasures Diwali celebrators often exchange is barfi, a velvety, buttery confection akin to fudge yet distinctly Indian with flavors from rose water to pistachio. Then there's kaju katli, one of the most gifted mithai during Diwali. It can be thought of as a sweet cousin of barfi made from cashews and just as decadent and fudgy. Kaju katli is often adorned with a delicate layer of edible silver leaf, reflecting a festive twinkle.

While Diwali's spirit encourages a mosaic of cultural expressions, traditional Indian mithai such as these and age-old classics like halwa and ladoo continue to hold a revered place during Diwali celebrations. Traditional sweets are the mainstays of the festival of light's gifting tradition, with their ability to carry the essence of the homeland to every corner of the globe.