The hand-painted treasure he lovingly removed from a protective layer of fabric after school one day in October wasn't exactly like the kind you'd find in India, but it was an utterly adorable representation. His tiny clay pot had a birthday candle jutting out of the center rather than a cloth wick floating in oil, and he had painted it with great loving care. Setting it down on our kitchen table, my five-year-old son excitedly explained that this was a diya, and we should light it for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. When National Geographic took a photo of India from space during Diwali, he informed us, it was the most lit-up place on the planet.
After correcting my mispronunciation of Diwali (It's diVAli, actually) my kindergartener proceeded to sing the first couple lines of a Hindi nursery rhyme about Diwali.
Then he refused to light the diya because he loved it too much and wanted to save it forever. It remains lovingly wrapped in its cloth, tied carefully with a bow, and tucked away with other precious treasures out of his little sister's reach.
A couple of weeks later my little boy brimmed with enthusiasm and cultural tidbits about Dia de los Muertos. He wanted to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in our home, he declared, and make an ofrenda, perhaps with some sugar skulls and pictures of my grandma. He explained that the candles we would place on the ofrenda would light her way home to us, and maybe we could put some of her favorite things out to welcome her. We agreed to display her picture alongside a picture of Breyer's Vanilla Fudge Twirl -- her favorite.
Next came Hanukkah. When my sweet, holiday-loving child saw our new Keep Shining Hanukkah t-shirt on my computer screen and asked what it was, I explained that Hanukkah was a festival of lights, kind of like Diwali. That was that -- he was in love with Hanukkah. So you can bet we'll be lighting a menorah in our house this year.
We are not part of a religious tradition that celebrates Diwali, Dia de los Muertos, or Hanukkah, but I believe all religions, at their core, hold the same tenets dear: love, decency, and compassion for our fellow humans. All religions have wonderful things to teach. So I could not be more delighted with his love for learning about the celebrations and traditions of other religions and cultures.
To learn is to understand, and to understand is to love -- and we could all use a lot more love and tolerance right now. Because let's face it: in the past year hate crimes, hate speech, and hate in general have spiked. So when children open their big hearts to embrace what we might consider "other," we should follow their lead.
In that spirit, here are a few kid-friendly books about Diwali, Dia de Los Muertos, and some of the upcoming Winter holidays that we've read in our house and think are pretty cool. We're only getting started and definitely have a lot more to learn about, so if you have other favorites, please add them in the comments!
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