Editor's note: Although this story originally published in 2015, Diwali is an annual celebration taking place this week. Here's what you need to know about how and why your neighbors are celebrating.
At Bombay Grocers in Sharonville, Pratiksha Sonar was piling up her shopping cart with tiny lights called diyas and Indian sweets as she shopped for Diwali.
Across the Tri-State, there are nearly 15,000 Indians. And most of them will be celebrating Diwali on Thursday, Oct. 19.
To understand the celebration of Diwali, think of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July packaged together.
“Diwali is the festival of lights and it symbolizes brightness, color and hope,” said Sonar.
Diwali is celebrated in October/November. It is an ancient Indian festival, primarily observed by Hindus but also by other Indian minorities such as Sikhs and Jains.
Diwali literally translated means “diyas,” a kind of clay lamp. The small lights in a row became a tradition after the last harvest of the year was done. Being an agricultural society, farmers would seek the blessings of Lakshmi and Ganesh -- the goddess and god of wealth and prosperity -- as they closed their annual books for the financial year.
Even today, businesses in India start their budget year the day after Diwali.
Diwali is the biggest shopping day of the year for Indian stores, said the owners of the three most popular local Indian groceries: Bombay Grocers and Patel Brothers, both in Sharonville, and Niva Grocers in Tylersville.
“Diwali to us is what Christmas is to American retailers,” said Biren Patel, who owns Bombay Grocers. He said his store earns $200,000 annually with the Diwali sales that run starting two weeks before the holiday.
Indians clean their homes, buy new clothes, new kitchen utensils, light glittering diyas outside their front doors, decorate with strings of electric lights, cook platters of food and distribute mithai -- sweet, sugary, colorful concoctions similar to marzipan.
But like other holidays, Diwali isn’t all about commerce and food.
Indians pray for success and good luck and invoke the blessings of Lakshmi and Ganesh.
There are multiple myths and folklore that contribute to spiritual significance of the festival, which symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair.
Hindus celebrate the day because they believe in Lord Rama, who defeated his evil adversary Ravana. Jains believe the spiritual awakening of their founder Mahavira Jain occurred during the time. Sikhs mark the day as one the Guru Hargobind ji was freed from imprisonment.
Khush Karamchandani, a Mason resident who has volunteered for the Hindu Society of Greater Cincinnati for decades, points out that Diwali is the “most important religious festival for Hindus.”
Karamchandani, a retired General Electric employee, estimates that more than 1,000 Indians will visit the Hindu Society of Greater Cincinnati temple when Diwali is celebrated worldwide.
“We are Hindus. It doesn’t matter where we live in the world, we celebrate with joy, energy and enthusiasm,” Karamchandani said.
Diwali is a national holiday in India, but it’s an ordinary working day in all other countries.
However, Indians polled in stores said they were still going to celebrate in the evening with informal parties alongside family and friends.
“It’s a way to keep our connection to Indian traditions,” said Shilpa Matade, a housewife from West Chester.