Diwali will be an official public school holiday in the coming year and elected officials and community members gathered in City Hall on Monday to mark the new milestone.
Diwali, otherwise known as the Hindu Festival of Lights is celebrated by religious followers of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and some Buddhists. Mayor Eric Adams, Schools Chancellor David Banks, and Queens Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar (AD-38), among others, celebrated their partnership to close schools to honor Diwali for the first time this coming school year.
Rakjumar praised the city’s and state’s efforts to advance her legislation, introduced in the state assembly in 2021, to observe Diwali as a school holiday.
The assemblywoman, a first-generation Indian American who represents parts of Queens, said she never felt alone in the fight to push her bill all the way through to the victory she was celebrating today. The bill was passed on June 8, the last day of the 2023 New York legislative session.
“Today the mayor and I are proud to stand before the whole world and see that from now on and for forever, Diwali will be a school holiday in New York City,” Rajkumar said at City Hall.
Adams called Rajkumar a “real leader” who put in the hours towards establishing Diwali as a school holiday and playfully remarked that he has a “whole chapter in my book dedicated to you with this pursuit.” The mayor said the next step is waiting for Governor Kathy Hochul to set Diwali as a school holiday in stone.
“We feel confident that the governor is going to sign this bill into law,” Adams said. “This is a victory not only from the men and women of the Indian community and all communities that celebrate Diwali, but it’s a victory for New York.”
I know it’s a little early in the year, but: Shubh Diwali! pic.twitter.com/WD2dvTrpX3
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) June 26, 2023
The New York City Department of Education released the next two school calendars for 2024-25 and 2025-26 early, including the scheduled Diwali holidays. For the 2024-25 school year, Diwali will be observed on Friday, Nov. 1 and for the 2025-26 school year, schools will close on Monday, Oct. 20. Students will also be off on Lunar New Year this next school year, which the New York City Council voted on to become official school holiday in February.
Schools Chancellor Banks said that the DOE will be providing educators with robust materials, sample lesson plans, and suggested activities to teach students about Diwali.
“It’s less about the fact that schools will be closed in recognition of Diwali,” Banks said. “It’s more about the fact that minds will be open because of what we are going to teach them about Diwali and about the history.”
Rajkumar, who was the first Hindu American and Indian American woman elected to New York State Office, spoke to the 600,000-plus Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain Americans across New York City. She recalled her parents immigrating to the states from India with “$300 and a suitcase.”
“Today we say to families from India, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal, and Bangladesh, we recognize you,” Rajkumar said. “Families just like mine. My family is like every South Asian family standing behind me today.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. referenced the Diwali celebration of good winning over evil in a statement today. Richards’ borough is where the majority of Indian Americans live in New York City.
“Just as the Diwali holiday symbolizes, light has prevailed once again for thousands of Sikh, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist residents across Queens,” Richards said. “Forcing families to choose between the education of their children and the practice of their faith as a unit is far from just, but I couldn’t be happier for all our Diwali-celebrating neighbors who will never again have to make that choice.”
Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to officially recognize Diwali as a public and school holiday. New York is now the second state to do so. Rajkumar pointed to the past two decades of fighting for the moment that arrived today and said this year’s Diwali celebrations at the mayor’s Gracie Mansion and Times Square will be more historic and bigger than ever before.
She joked about renting out Madison Square Garden for the mayor’s Diwali celebration. Diwali Times Square, the largest public celebration for Diwali in New York City, will be returning this year on Oct. 28.
“People said this day would never come but today we stand victorious inside of City Hall,” Rajkumar said. “Our time has come and we have arrived at the table of power. I thank Mayor Adams for being the first and only mayor in the history of our city to elevate the Diwali school holiday cause and put the force of his administration behind it.”