Diwali at Soho House is about more than food and fireworks

Diwali | Soho House

Diwali enthusiast Billie Bhatia explains why the festival of lights means so much to her and reveals all the ways to celebrate around the Houses

Thursday 20 October 2022       By Billie Bhatia

I love Christmas. I don’t understand people who don’t. How can you not? Parties, presents, people – the triumvirate of excellent times. For years, I presumed my mum didn’t like Christmas – she never partook in putting up the tree, she doesn’t care for the seasonal films, and her presents are always practical. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came to a realisation (there is a trickling of wisdom that comes with being 32) that it’s not that she doesn’t like Christmas, it’s that she loves Diwali. And what she didn’t like was mine and my sibling’s indifference to the most important celebration in Indian culture.  

Diwali – the festival of lights celebrated by billions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world – is as major in the religious calendar as Christmas is to Christians. In fact, they have many commonalities: extended family and friends coming together, inordinate amounts of food, the lighting of ceremonial candles, and gifts.  

Where I could draw you a tableau of every Christmas I’ve ever had, I’m sad to say I don’t remember nearly as many Diwali celebrations. Not because my wonderful mother didn’t always make a big deal of it, but because I didn’t. I have a few core memories of the celebration: being rolled out at primary school year after year to retell the story of Rama and Sita overcoming the evil, 10-headed demon Ravana (Google the story, it really is a fascinating read); my mum’s annual samosa production line, grating hundreds of mangos to make the accompanying chutney; blowing up a window with a particularly aggressive firework. But the memory that sticks out the most is so desperately wanting to fit in to my surroundings of white suburban Britain, that I dulled down my heritage. Miming the words to the ‘Arti’ (a Hindu hymn) when I should have been belting them as loud as ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, and not cherishing the moments when my family were celebrating where I came from.  

Now, with that small amount of wisdom on my side, I have come to love Diwali not just as a celebration of food and friends, but as an intrinsic part of who I am. So instead of hiding that and being ashamed of not being just like everyone else, I decided to celebrate it. Last Diwali, I tried to do my mum proud by carrying on her traditions with the people I love the most. Thirty of us gathered for an evening of festivities: we had incredible food, we lit candles together on the doorstep and in the windows of my friend’s home, I told everyone the origin story of Diwali, we listened to classic Indian music, and we toasted to celebrating our differences. Naturally, (and decked out in my Indian finest), we ended the night at 180 House, where we scooped up surrounding newbies with hands full of Picantes to tell them about the magic of Diwali until the early hours of the morning. 
 
For me, Diwali isn’t just about the optics, it’s about connection – something Soho House knows better than most. It’s an opportunity to learn and celebrate, and understand that there is more to the world than what we might experience on a daily basis. So, grab your mates, book in for a curry, and find the magic in sharing the parts of yourself you might previously have buried. Oh, and don’t forget to light a candle. Happy Diwali!  

Here are the best places to celebrate Diwali around the Houses today. 
 
Soho House Hong Kong, Monday 24 October
Discover the history of henna art for Diwali and learn the different drawing techniques. All materials are included.

Soho Warehouse LA, Monday 24 October 
Join us for a special celebration of Diwali. Adorn yourself at our henna station or paint your own diyas as a DJ spins Bollywood beats all night long.

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