Diwali, Indian Festival Of Lights, Is A Public School Holiday In New York City

The annual celebration of the triumph of light over darkness is observed by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and the announcement came after state lawmakers recently passed legislation to make it a holiday in the nation’s largest school system. This year, Diwali falls on Sunday, Nov. 12, so it is scheduled to be a day off school for the first time in 2024.

The mayor said he was “confident” that the governor, Kathy Hochul, would sign the bill. A spokeswoman for her office said that the governor is still reviewing it, while adding that she has supported other efforts to recognize Diwali. Mr. Adams said that the moment represented a symbolic declaration to those who feel unwelcome “that you are part of this city”

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

Why it Matters: Families lobbied for years for recognition.

In New York, families have lobbied for the city’s public schools to close in observance of several major religious or cultural celebrations, joining existing holidays like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Christmas. In 2015, the city announced it would close schools in honor of two major Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Many South Asian and Indo-Caribbean parents and advocates had been frustrated that Diwali had never been added to the list. The holiday is one of the most significant Hindu religious observances and is also celebrated by many Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.

Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman of GIOIO International said, “GOPIO International and its chapters GOPIO-New York and GOPIO-Manhattan were involved and worked with New York City Mayor Eric Adams from the first meeting held at the City Hall. We then supported the legislation introduced by NY Assembly Woman Jenifer Rajkumar. This is a great recognition of the Indian American Diaspora community.”

On the day after his election, Mayor Adams promised Diwali would become a school holiday. But upon taking office, he declined to add the holiday himself.

Instead, he looked to state lawmakers, who had introduced a bill to recognize Diwali for the past two years. On Monday,Jenifer Rajkumar, the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, said the announcement was decades in the making and showed that Diwali “is not just a holiday.”

Rather, “it is an American holiday, and the South Asian community is part of the American story,” said Ms. Rajkumar, the first Hindu American and first South Asian woman to be elected to state office in New York.

Background: The 180-day school calendar was an obstacle.

The push to add Diwali to the school calendar had faced a major obstacle: All school districts must offer at least 180 days a year of instruction under state law.

So, to add a holiday to the calendar, officials must replace another observance, or eliminate one of the extra days that offer latitude in case of snow or other emergencies.

After Mayor Bill de Blasio recognized Lunar New Year and the two Muslim holy days in the mid-2010s as school holidays, he said that the 180-day rule would prevent his administration from adding any other dates — including Diwali — to the system’s calendar.

Lawmakers began to consider removing “Anniversary Day,” which recognizes the city’s earliest Protestant Sunday schools. It falls in early June and dates back to the early 1800s. But the bill they passed left it up to the city to decide.

What’s Next? A push to make Diwali a federal holiday.

The efforts in New York City reflect the broader ways that schools across the country have grappled with when to close for religious or cultural celebrations. Some leaders argue that not all holidays can warrant a closure, but families often point out that a number of students might otherwise miss class time.

In San Francisco, the school board this fall reversed a decision to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as holidays, angering many parents. The board said that “further analysis” was first needed to determine what dates should be added.

Those national debates are unlikely to end as the push to recognize major religious holidays continues.

Representative Grace Meng, a Queens Democrat, introduced legislation last month, for example, that would make Diwali a federal holiday. Doing so, Ms. Meng said, would “demonstrate that the government values the diverse cultural makeup of the nation.” (NYT)

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