How to throw a Diwali Party - Millennial Edition
Updated: Mar 13, 2022
I am sure you’ve heard that Diwali is the Festival of Lights. But what is the meaning of Diwali? Why do we perform the rituals we do? I always turn to Sanskar Teaching to break down the meanings behind our festivals and help me relate our traditions to our busy lives now. Like most festivals, what I most look forward to about Diwali is spending time with family and friends, dressing up and food.
When I moved to Los Angeles, away from my family, I really felt a void around the holidays. So I decided to start my own traditions. Throwing a Diwali party for my small group of friends is a way for me to share my culture, food, festivals and its vibrant colors with those closest to me. Last year’s Diwali party was a very small get together with my bubble due to COVID restrictions but it was such a hit that this year’s party is going to be even better, because I will be able to invite more friends ☺️
So let’s get planning! Here are the steps I take to plan out my party -
Decide on a date and a guest list, then make the Diwali invitation -
With services like Canva and Paperless Post, it takes just a few clicks to create a festive invite. The invite will have important information such as date, time and location but don’t forget to add a dress code. Is your party casual? Dress to Impress? Are Indian clothes highly encouraged? This will take the guess work out for your guests. Also, be sure to include a RSVP date so you can plan for an accurate number of people.
If you are encouraging people to wear Indian clothes to set the festive tone, consider sending out a couple of links to boutiques that you would trust ordering from (Amazon also has great affordable options). And if you’re like me and have too many clothes that don’t get enough love, encourage your girlfriends to go shopping in your closet. For example, this year my girlfriends will be coming over the week before the party and we’re going to do a “wine and try on Indian clothes night” and they can pick whatever they like to wear for the party. This is also a great way to build excitement for the party.
Another thing to note on the invite is, do you want people to bring anything? For my party, I plan on having plenty of food and drinks, so I am kindly asking my friends to not bring anything and instead pitch into the party fund, if they like. I’ve included my Venmo handle on the invite should they choose to contribute in any amount. In the previous parties we’ve hosted among our friends, 20ish bucks a person seems to be the average amount. There is no right or wrong answer here, just go with whatever you feel comfortable with and how you and your friends usually contribute to parties.
Now onto my favorite part of party planning - FOOD!
Picking a menu can seem daunting, as there are so many options. In the past, when my mom would host these parties, she would have a very typical menu - something like this: Chips and salsa (IYKYK) and samosa for apps, a full meal as an entree that would include a couple of sabzis (curries), farsan ( savory), mithai (sweets), roti/puri/naan, rice and daal. As I plan for my party, a FULL meal seems very daunting and if I am being honest, a little boring. I am a foodie through and through, and love being creative with my food, so I naturally gravitate towards fusion recipes. I love keeping the traditional elements of our dishes and adding a modern spin on it. I also think they’re easier for my friends who are non-Indian to approach and appreciate. So here is the menu I’ve created for my party this year:
Appetizers: Since charcuterie boards are all the hype right now... I thought it would be really fun to create a Diwali naasto (snacks) charcuterie board. The board will include all the typical naastos such as - mathia, ghugra, chorafali, chevdo, farsi puri, shakarpara, chikki and more. Making Diwali snacks at home is a time consuming endeavor so I will mix and match whatever I can find at my local Indian grocery store. I plan on adding this quick peanut and cheese chaat recipe by The Chutney Life to amp up the fusion factor. Last but not least, is it even a desi party without chai?! I will use ZSpice Chai Masala to make the chai about a hour-ish before guests start to arrive and pour it into a thermos to keep it warm. You can also serve your chai at the end of the meal or both.
Dinner: This might be just me but when I am inviting friends over (especially non desi friends) I love making foods that they typically won’t see in a mainstream restaurant. I like them to try things that I grew up eating at home and wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. That being said, dishes like paneer, chole (chana masala), samosas are a staple in Indian cuisine and DELICIOUS so if you love them, don’t be shy to have it at your party! For my party this year - I plan on the following dinner menu: Idli Sambar with coconut chutney as my main dish and having sides like either Gobi Manchurian or air fried Pakoras and Tamarind Rice (kinda going for South Indian food vibes). I like to keep the dinner menu simple as not to overwhelm my guests with too many options. And it also makes it easier on me to prepare this in the morning before my guests start to arrive and allows me to be present with them.
Other easy dinner ideas that I think guests would love are - Pav Bhaji, Ragda Pattice, Chaat, Vada Pav and Indo-Chinese. You can find recipes for all of these dishes and more on my favorite food bloggers pages.
The Chutney Life - I go to her for a lot of my fusion recipes.
Ministry of Curry - She is my go to person for all Instant Pot recipes. Think quick but delicious.
My Vegetarian Roots - I love how she makes traditional recipes very approachable. And her Indo-Chinese recipes are bomb!
Milk & Cardamom - She’s the queen of traditional and fusion mithai/dessert recipes.
Dessert: Ahhh dessert, too many options and not enough time to make them. To be honest, I still haven’t decided on what I will be making for dessert this year but I am playing around with the following ideas - gajar halwa, kopra pak ( my mom used to make this for every occasion so it’s near and dear to my heart), kalakand, kheer and gulab jamun cake truffles. You’ll find recipes for all of these sweets and more on the food bloggers pages mentioned above. My criteria for dessert is pretty simple - minimal ingredients and can be made a few days ahead of time. Ain’t nobody got time for it on the day of the party.
Drinks: If my mom were planning this party, this would be easy. We would buy bottles of Coke and Pepsi and call it a day. Zalak being Zalak, has to be complicated and has to have drinks/cocktails to match the festive vibes. Case in point - I was browsing the aisles of World Market last weekend for decor inspo and came across a wine from India! Like how cool is that!? So naturally I picked it up and our Diwali party will feature wine from Sula Vineyards in India. I also have a girlfriend who makes amazing cocktails so I’ve tasked her to make a signature cocktail for the night. Naturally it will have some tropical flavors like mango, guava or watermelon and chaat masala for an extra pizazz. If you’re looking for inspiration, last year I made Vodka guava spritzers and it could not have been any easier. On the afternoon of the party, mix vodka and guava juice in a big pitcher and a ton of mint for a fresh flavor. I had tonic water on the side so guests could add it as they got their drinks. Easy peasy and honestly it was a hit. Be mindful of your guests who prefer not to drink. You can easily make the same cocktail and leave out the alcohol.
Next up, decor -
Is it even Diwali without lighting up our houses like a christmas tree and having diyas (little lamps) everywhere?! Since diyas are a little harder to find and frankly, expensive I usually use tealight candles instead. They work just as great and are inexpensive. As mentioned earlier, I was browsing the aisles of World Market for inspiration and came across these beautiful decor pieces that could easily work for a Diwali party - Lotus Tealight Candle Holder, Gold Pierced Tealight Candle Holder Set Of 3, Antique Gold Peacock Trinket Dish, Fabric Birds Hanging Decor. Fresh flowers are always a nice touch. I usually get them from Trader Joe’s as they are more affordable compared to other places. Bonus points if you can find fresh marigolds or jasmines. Amazon also has a lot of affordable decor options. I plan on buying marigold garlands and string lights from Amazon to decorate a wall and use it as a photo booth. If you’re more creative than I am, definitely create a hashtag for the party. I will also be getting sparklers so we can light it up after dinner.
Are you feeling overwhelmed?
I totally understand, but no need. A lot of the heavy lifting will be done well in advance of the party. I recommend going to the grocery store, at least a few days in advance, to get everything and prepare as much as possible before the day of the party. Enlist a friend or two to help you set up the decor so you don’t have to take it all on. I love cooking for my friends and family so I prefer to make the food at home but if cooking is not your jam, totally feel free to cater the party from a local restaurant. There is no reason you have to stress about it and if you don’t have to cook, you’ll have more time to enjoy your delicious cocktails 😀 I hope you find this guide helpful and hopefully it will help you create lasting memories with your friends and family.
Wishing you and your family a very Happy Diwali filled with lots of love and laughter :)