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Diwali, the Hindu celebration known as the “Festival of Lights,” a public holiday in Guyana , Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname, will be a public school holiday in New York City starting next year, 2023. Diwali Day has been an excused school day for the last dozen years for students and staff who celebrated the festival. Parking rules were also suspended during that period. From next year, Diwali day will be an official school holiday.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams made the announcement on Thursday morning at a press conference to include the holiday in the public school schedule.
Adams called the decision a “long overdue” acknowledgment of Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist communities.
The mayor said: “We are going to encourage children to learn about what is Diwali. We’re going to have them start talking about what it is to celebrate the Festival of Lights, and how do you turn a light on within yourself.”
The mayor was joined by Democratic state assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and Department of Education schools chancellor Dr David Banks. The assemblywoman also referenced lighthearted descriptions of Adams as “the Hindu mayor” because of his plant-based diet and yoga meditation practice.
Politicians from both sides of the political divide, welcome the policy to make Diwali a holiday. School and public holidays must reflect the communities. Diwali is a school holiday in Schenectady and several districts in New Jersey. NYC is the largest city and school district in America. The holiday sets a precedent for other districts to follow.
Democratic and Republican legislators have been celebrating Diwali at their offices and at the legislatures over the last decade around the country.
The mayor made a promise in his election campaign last year to make Diwali a holiday. He told Hindus at several Guyanese Mandirs that the recognition was long overdue. At several public functions this year, the mayor was mocked and faced sarcastic remarks by Hindus for not honoring his promise. At Diwali celebrations last Saturday, he was reminded again. An embarrassed mayor must have decided it was time to deliver his commitment to Hindus. A hastily announced press conference, organized last night, was scheduled for Thursday at 10AM.
State and City Legislators decided to swap Anniversary Day, traditionally celebrated on the first Thursday in June, for Diwali in the public school calendar. It is not known how many City students are Hindus but the number is in the tens of thousands. There are approximately 400,000 Indian Guyanese in NYC with over half being Hindus. There are over fifty Guyanese Mandirs in the city.
Diwali is a major Hindu festival but is also celebrated by Indian Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. The date of Diwali fluctuates depending on the lunar calendar. It falls in the darkest night in the Fall. This year, the holiday is on October 24.
State Assemblywoman Rajkumar said: “The time has come to recognize over 200,000 New Yorkers of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain faiths who celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights”.
Rajkumar, who introduced legislation to recognize Diwali, said in the press conference, “Anniversary Day is an obscure and antiquated day as compared to Diwali, which is celebrated by a growing number of New Yorkers.”
She commented that people have said that “there’s simply not enough room in the New York City school calendar to have a Diwali school holiday. Well, my legislation makes the room.”
State law requires 180 school days. The calendar is tight with five Jewish days, 2 Muslim Days, one Chinese Lunar Day, several Christian days, an Italian day, Black American Emancipation Days, holidays for Lincoln and Washington, among others. An extra day could not be found. Anniversary Day is replaced by Diwali Day.