How Indian Americans are making Diwali their own

A family prays together during Diwali in Chino Hills, California, on November 10, 2018.

(CNN)Diwali wasn't a big part of Radha Patel's childhood growing up in Maryland.

Her parents, though Hindu, weren't particularly observant, and while the family attended Diwali celebrations and pujas hosted by other relatives, they didn't necessarily do anything special at home.
Now that Patel has two kids of her own, the 38-year-old's outlook on the festival of lights has changed. She wants her children to feel connected to their Indian heritage, so she makes a concerted effort each year to make the holiday feel special for them. Patel and her family take part in common traditions such as performing ritual prayers, decorating the house with lights and drawing rangolis. But they've also adapted some Western traditions, like getting family photos taken for their Diwali cards and exchanging gifts at Diwali instead of Christmas.
      Radha Patel says she makes an effort each year to ensure that Diwali feels special for her two children.
      "The idea is we're coming together as a community," said Patel, who lives in Dallas. "The fundamental part of Diwali that I want to pass on is that this is something special that our community celebrates, and I want that to be special for my children."
        As Indian immigrants have crossed oceans and borders for new countries, the holidays and traditions they brought with them have both endured and evolved with the next generation. Diwali -- a festival with various meanings, histories and names depending on the region and religion observing it -- is no exception.
          Here's a look at how some Indian Americans are making Diwali their own.

          They fuse Indian and Western cultures

          Diwali is both a religious and cultural holiday, celebrated by both the devout and secular.
          For some Hindus, the festival celebrates the day that Prince Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, and his wife Sita, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi, return to their kingdom after 14 years of exile. Other Hindus in southern India mark it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura, freeing 16,000 girls in his captivity. In western India, it signifies the day that Lord Vishnu sent the demon king Bali to rule the netherworld.
          Sumita Patel gathers with her family at her grandfather's house each year for Diwali prayers and celebrations.
          The festival has significance for other faiths, too. Sikhs refer to the holiday as "Bandi Chhor Divas" (The Day of Liberation), marking the day that Guru Hargobind, their sixth guru, was freed from wrongful imprisonment along with the 52 Hindu kings who had been incarcerated with him. Jains recognize it as the day that Lord Mahavira, their last spiritual leader, attained physical death and achieved enlightenment. Some Buddhists observe by honoring the Emperor Ashoka's embrace of Buddhism.
          Sumita Patel, a 33-year-old Hindu who lives in Atlanta, grew up celebrating Diwali in traditional ways, gathering with family for prayers, donning new clothes, feasting on homemade Indian dishes and desserts and igniting fireworks.
          As she's gotten older, Patel finds herself navigating how to keep those traditions alive while embracing both her Indian roots and American upbringing. Though the ways that she observes the festival haven't changed all that much, she says she's trying to engage more fully with the significance behind the rituals.
          "While we still do a lot of the same things, I kind of dig for that deeper meaning and understanding so that I feel more comfortable carrying these traditions forward," she said.
          Sumita Patel and her husband during a Diwali celebration.
          Every year, Patel gathers with her family for a puja at her grandfather's house, followed by a night of feasting and fireworks. But before the main event, she and her husband make it a point to perform prayers at their own home.
          "That was something that was important to my husband and I, to make sure that we're acknowledging Diwali within our four walls as well," she said.
          Patel has also found ways to share Diwali with others in her community. She puts together gift baskets to distribute to close friends and neighbors and operates a small home decor business with her husband that includes Diwali candles, prayer frames and holiday signs among its inventory.
          Sahej Singh says she associates Diwali with family and optimism.
          That fusion of Indian and American cultures is something that Sahej Singh also considers.
          When Singh was growing up in Colorado Springs, she said the Indian diaspora there celebrated Diwali by putting on an annual cultural show featuring skits and dances. It was an event she looked forward to every year -- Singh remembers spending weekends practicing dances with her friends and how non-Indian classmates and teachers were invited to partake in the fun, too.
          "It was a really big deal for us where we grew up," she said. "That's something that [the Indian community] really tried to make their own."
          As a child, Sahej Singh would perform at an annual Diwali show put on by the Indian community in Colorado Springs.
          These days, Diwali celebrations for Singh are more laid-back. The 25-year-old lives in Tampa, Florida, with her family and plans this year to bake a Parle-G cheesecake, have friends over to play cards and carrom and of course, blast music and dance. Being Sikh, she says her family will likely attend services at the Gurdwara as well.
          "You have those traditional things that maybe people in India do but you're also adding your own traditions being a second generation American here," Singh added.