Hindu Festival of Lights to Be Recognized as School Holiday in New York City

(Photo by rawpixel.com public domain)
(Photo by rawpixel.com public domain)

In acknowledgment of the expanding South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities in New York City, Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is poised to be designated as a public school holiday.

“This is a city that’s continuously changing, continuously welcoming communities from all over the world,” stated New York City Mayor Eric Adams on June 26. He announced that the South Asian festival, along with other celebrations like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Christmas and Lunar New Year, will be added as a school holiday for students.

“Our school calendar must reflect the new reality on the ground,” he emphasized, describing the occasion as a significant triumph for the city’s Hindu-heritage families. In 2015, New York City announced that schools would be closed to commemorate two key Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

“We’re now saying New York is made for everyone,” Adams said. “No matter where you came from.”

Every year, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers participate in the celebration of Diwali, which commemorates the victory of light over darkness. The festival, which usually falls in October or November, depending on the lunar calendar, holds immense importance as a religious observance for Hindus and is also celebrated by numerous Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.

The decision to recognize Diwali as a school holiday in the largest school system of the nation follows a recent passage of legislation by state lawmakers.

Adams, a Democrat who made a promise to establish Diwali as a school holiday during his mayoral campaign in 2021, expressed his anticipation for the endorsement of the proposed legislation by New York Governor Kathy Hochul. The governor’s office mentioned that Hochul hosted a Diwali celebration last autumn and is currently assessing all the bills approved by the legislature so far in 2023.

Because Diwali falls on Sunday, November 12 this year, it will officially be observed as a school holiday for the first time in 2024.

The movement for formal acknowledgment of Diwali coincides with the increasing influence and presence of South Asians in New York City and across the country. According to the Census Bureau, the population of New York City residents identified as Asian Indian has more than doubled over the past three decades, rising from 94,000 in 1990 to approximately 213,000 per the 2021 American Community Survey.

The mayor’s announcement marked the culmination of decades of effort and demonstrated that Diwali is “not just a holiday,” said Jenifer Rajkumar, a member of the New York State Assembly who sponsored the legislation to officially recognize the festival. Diwali is “an American holiday, and the South Asian community is part of the American story,” added Rajkumar, the first Hindu American and first South Asian woman elected to state office in New York.


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