The Indian “Festival of Lights”

President and Mrs. Obama participate in a Diwali celebration at an Indian school.

When the days start getting short, lots of cultures have festivals designed to brighten the long nights.

In India, there’s a “festival of lights” known as Diwali (pronounced dee-VAH-lee).

It’s a Hindu religious festival and a New Year’s celebration, all rolled into one.

Earlier this month, President and Mrs. Obama celebrated Diwali at an Indian school during their trip to Asia.

You might have seen Mrs. Obama dancing with students – and the President reluctantly joining her.

Diwali is a Hindi word that means “row of lamps.”

It’s a five-day festival that takes place anywhere from mid-October to mid-November.

(The date varies from year to year because the Hindu religion has its own calendar based on both the moon and the sun.)

During Diwali, people traditionally lit small oil lamps called diyas.

They put the diyas all over their homes to create as much light as possible.

Today, many Indians light candles or put up neon lights instead of lighting diyas.

It’s also customary to eat sweets on Diwali.

Some of the most common Diwali sweets are kheer (like rice pudding), gulab jamun (cheese dumplings in sugar syrup flavored with a spice called cardamom) and shrikhand (Indian custard).

And during Diwali, Indians commonly exchange gifts with friends and family members.

In America, Diwali is not a well-known holiday outside of Indian communities.

But earlier this month, kids at Willowwind School in Iowa City, Iowa, got a chance to participate in a Diwali celebration after studying the holiday.

According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the kids made their own diyas.

They also created traditional, flower-shaped decorations called rangolis.

And they got to sample some traditional Diwali foods, thanks to the parents of the some of the school’s Indian-American students.

“The rice pudding is very, very good,” sixth-grader Reed Coiner told Press-Citizen reporter Rob Daniel.

“It’s fun to make the arts and crafts” fourth-grader Mae Stokes added.

Mae told Daniel she didn’t know Diwali existed until now.

As more and more people from across the world make the United States their home, there are more and more chances to learn about holidays such as Diwali – and to learn that all of our cultures have a lot more in common than we might think.