As Christmas draws near, many people will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by exchanging gifts and attending church services. Although this may be the norm for the Ada community, there are others who, in addition to celebrating Christmas, also embrace other holidays from their heritage.

Aradhna Pillai, political science major at East Central University, hails from the Fiji Islands and in addition to celebrating the Christmas season, she also celebrates Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.

According to Pillai, Diwali is the celebration of the return of Lord Ram, after a 14-year unjust exile into the forest.

“He was the noble lord unjustly removed from his throne,” she said. “He lived as a prince and a king and was born as a human. He returns at night and to welcome him, people light lamps and light up the whole city with lights. It’s called the festival of lights because it also symbolizes light over darkness, good over evil, and it’s very symbolic that way.”

The festival continues for five days and it viewed as an important holiday in India.

“During Diwali, you try to make your home the best you can make it,” she said. “Cleaning up your house and making it just like Christmas by hanging up lights. We don’t have a tree or anything, but we make lots of food and it’s all vegetarian because Hindu’s don’t eat meat on a holy function.”

Pillai also explains that upon making these dishes, they’re to be shared with neighbors and family, much in the way of sharing gifts with Christmas.

“You have to show charity, so if any beggar comes to your house, you have to give them something — you cannot turn them away because it’s like bringing bad luck upon yourself.”

Even though the holiday lasts five days, the women often begin to prepare cooking the food a week in advance, Pillai noted.

“Indian cooking is very labor- intensive,” she said. “Just cooking various things can take a few days.”

In addition to honoring Lord Ram, Hindu’s also honor the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi.

“She is worshipped for good tidings and blessings and wealth,” Pillai said. “That festival sort of coincides with Diwali as well.”

In addition to celebrating Diwali, Pillai also participates in Christmas traditions.

“It’s a very popular festival among Hindu’s as well,” she said. “In Hinduism, you’re not restricted and you can worship outside of the religion and still be considered a Hindu, it’s all-inclusive. Ultimately Hindu’s all agree that God is formless and we cannot know what he looks like.”