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HOLIDAY: Area families enjoy feasting, exchanging sweets and decorating their homes for Indian holiday. Diyas, tea lights, candles and strings of outdoor lights will give a festive and inviting glow to Hindu homes on Thursday during the celebration of Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. “This is our biggest holiday. We light up the whole house,” said Vandana Kumar, who grew up in Shimla in Northern India. “Diwali is such a big deal in India. There are lots of firecrackers, which of course we cannot have here. There is a big feast, plenty of good food and an exchange of sweets.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Kumar, a science teacher at Canoga Park High School, said she uses outdoor Christmas lights to decorate for Diwali. “The lights are for the celebration of Lord Ram, who returned from exile, and also for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, inviting her to come to our home,” Kumar said. And although Kumar is Hindu, she has no problem decorating her house with the lights associated with Christmas. “Diwali is like everybody’s holiday. It’s the equivalent of Christmas and in some ways almost like Thanksgiving,” said Kumar, who went to a Roman Catholic convent school. “These holidays are celebrations, and I think it’s OK for all of us to share.” Diwali gets its name from a Sanskrit word, Deepavali. “Deepa” means light and avali means row – thus, a row of lights. Small earthenware lamps called diyas – the symbol of Diwali – are filled with mustard oil and placed on ltars in temples and inside and outside homes. The lunar Hindu calendar determines the celebration of Diwali, so it may be observed in October or November. It always falls on the day of the new moon. The traditional story behind Diwali is found in the Ramayana, a Hindu holy book, in which the adventures of Lord Rama, an avatar of God, are told in epic style. Lord Rama, or Ram, was poised to become a ruler of his country but was instead ordered into exile for 14 years. The epic states that he lived in difficult circumstances and his courage was tested when he defeated a demon, Ravana. The people of his country lighted diyas to illuminate his triumphant way home when the period of exile was over. Lord Rama’s epic includes moral teachings that Hindus read about in the Ramayana on Diwali. This holy book teaches people devotion to God, the proper way of living and obedience to one’s elders. “Lord Rama was a righteous guy,” said Dinesh Mangilipelly, a student at Pierce and Valley colleges. “I think Diwali reminds us of good winning over bad and overcoming obstacles. There’s always a flip side, the bright side, to everything,”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!