Bhargavi Pochi makes a decorative rangoli outside her door for Diwali (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

It’s around 5 p.m. on a Saturday, and Bhargavi Pochi has been cooking all day in anticipation of the evening’s festivities. Usually she’d be celebrating Diwali with her family, but this year, more than 1,000 miles from home, she’s leading the celebration on her own for the first time. 

Pochi, who moved to Alaska from Miami, Florida, four months ago is a first generation Indian-American. Both her parents immigrated from India in the 90s, raising her and her brother as Hindu.

“I’ve been practicing Diwali since I was born,” says Pochi. “I’ve been kind of feeling the homesickness especially because this is such an important holiday. So I wanted to do it with some friends here.”

Thumbprint cookies in the shape of diyas, the symbol for purity and light. (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

As Pochi explains, for those that follow a lunar calendar, Diwali is basically a new year celebration. It’s also often referred to as a festival of lights because of the tradition of adorning one’s home with lights. Before her guests arrive, Pochi decorates her doorway with LED candles, the finishing touch before the night begins. By 10 p.m. the party is in full swing.

For some, like Al Staumont, this wasn’t her first time celebrating the Hindu holiday. When I ask her if she’d ever been to a Diwali party before, she says she had, but not one like this.

“This is lit,” says Staumont.”The host is right in front of me. I cannot lie, I am having a great time. My mouth is full. My heart is full.”

For others, like Juan Cediel, the celebration caused some confusion. As a newcomer to the holiday, Cidiel wasn’t sure how best to celebrate.

Pochi’s homemade chai tea (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

“We’re here celebrating Diwali. I’m just confused,” says Cediel. “I don’t entirely know how it’s celebrated or how I can best support the experience.”

For Hindus, Diwali is one of the biggest holidays of the year, usually celebrated over a five day festival. While Diwali’s origin story differs from the region to region, in the Pochi family, Diwali is symbolic of Lord Rama and his wife Sita’s return to Ayodhya after defeating the evil King Ravana. The story goes that  upon their return the people of Ayodhya lit rows of oil lamps in celebration. But for Pochi, it doesn’t matter that her guests don’t fully understand the festival, just that they’re present with her to share it.

“I think the big motivation of me wanting to do this here and celebrate is because I love sharing my culture with my friends,” says Pochi. “I thought it was a good reason to celebrate and I thought this would be a great excuse to just have some people over and celebrate life.”

Familiar or not it’d be hard to call Pochi’s celebration anything but a success. And as the snacks dwindled, and the fake candles dimmed, my first Diwali, in Alaska of all places, came to a close.