GENEVA – Students at Heartland Elementary School in Geneva are exploring different cultures this week by celebrating one of India's most important holidays.
Liza Jain, the mother of first-grade student Aashika Jain, volunteered to showcase the different elements of Diwali – a five-day holiday that celebrates India's new year. Dancing, music, fireworks and traditional foods and decor are staples of the holiday, otherwise known as the Festival of Lights.
She said the holiday falls at different times each year because it's based on a lunar calendar and depends on the time the sun and moon rise and set. Diwali starts Sunday this year.
Jain, dressed in a pink saree and wearing bangle bracelets as is common in India, gave presentations to students in kindergarten through fifth-grade Tuesday and Wednesday, and she has another presentation planned for Friday.
"The kids have been great," Jain said. "They're so excited, and some are all dressed up."
She gave a short presentation to students in Kathy Chroust's music class, and older students made "diyas," or decorative candle holders, in Mary Massoth's art class. Some also made "rangolis," which are symmetric designs that are placed in the front of a home to signify good luck.
Students danced to music played during Diwali and learned about traditional instruments, such as the sitar and the tabla. Each day comes with its own traditions, which include prayers, lighting diyas and setting off copious amounts of fireworks to ward off evil spirits.
Jain explained that on the fifth day of Diwali, siblings show their appreciation for one another. Brothers give presents to their sisters, and boys enjoy lots of sweets on that day.
Jain said she wanted to bring Indian traditions to Geneva students because there aren't many opportunities in this area for children to explore other cultures.
"There's a growing Indian population in our area, and it's important to recognize these traditions," she said.