Nova Scotia

More businesses in Sydney are celebrating Diwali as ties to India grow

Diwali celebrations in Sydney have become more common in recent years thanks to an influx of students from South Asia and now more locals are joining the festivities to help make newcomers feel welcome.

For Gurpreet Kaur, it’s the coming together of friends and family while she’s away from home.

“In India we all celebrate it. Not only the Hindu people, Sikh and all relations celebrate it,” said Kaur.

Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is celebrated in late October or early November in India and other parts of South Asia. The five-day festival is a time for displaying burning candles or oil lamps to symbolize light overcoming darkness. It also includes plenty of food served at gatherings with family and friends.

Originally from northern India, Kaur said this is her first year living in Cape Breton. She works as a chef at Selkies Neighbourhood Diner in Sydney. When Diwali starts on Sunday this year, the usual egg and toast menu will flip to a Punjabi brunch menu.

“So we want to treat people who are from that religion, who are from there so they can feel like home,” she said. “We can relate to people. We can make them feel they are important to us and we are doing something for them.”

Candles shaped like traditional oil lamps being lit outside of a Sikh temple for Diwali. The lights represent the triumph of light over dark and the power of good over evil. (Danielle d’Entremont/CBC)

For Kaur, she said seeing more businesses and organizations hosting Diwali celebrations and events gives a feeling of home. Dishes will include momos, paratha, masala omelette and a traditional pudding. 

Kara Lackie is the owner of Selkies, and a big fan of Kaur’s cooking.

“When someone makes their home food, oh my gosh, there’s nothing like it. It’s the most special thing. I’m very excited,” said Lackie.

In Sydney, high enrollment of international students at Cape Breton University has greatly diversified the population.

Lackie said she’s noticed more newcomers visiting the diner, which she says helps enrich the menu.

A hand holds a brightly shining sparkler firework in the dark.
Sparklers, candles and lights are a big part of the celebrations. (Alick Tsui/CBC)

“We’re very excited to see the different clientele coming through and to talk about what kind of food they are interested in, what they liked … little changes we can make to make people feel at home because that’s what diners are for,” she said.

Admittedly, Lackie said she knew very little about Diwali before learning more from Kaur. Until then, most of Lackie’s exposure to the holiday came from a 2006 episode of NBC’s comedy The Office.

Learning more about the culture and making people feel welcome in the diner and community is a big win, according to Lackie.

“I’m very excited, it sounds just as good as Christmas,” she laughed along with Kaur.

A woman with painted hands applies a pattern in henna to another woman's hand.
This file photo shows mehndi, a traditional Indian form of temporary body art in which patterns are drawn on the hands using powdered henna. Island Folk Cider House in Sydney held a henna party ahead of Diwali this year. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Down the road from the diner, Island Folk Cider House is also joining in on the festivities. Jill MacPherson is owner of the business, and held a henna party ahead of Diwali to show clients traditional body art from India. 

“I think there’s a lot more diversity in the types of events that you’re seeing,” said MacPherson. “And I think it’s really important for folks of all different backgrounds to get together and share about their culture, whether that’s through music, through food, through what they celebrate.” 

MacPherson said she hopes people who attended the event who were not familiar with Diwali took something from it, and would consider supporting more events like it in the CBRM.

“It’s also really important for folks who maybe haven’t celebrated Diwali before or don’t really know much about it, that they would come out as well and learn about that cultural celebration,” she said.

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