Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Diwali will be honored as an official holiday in New York City schools

People watch a laser show on the banks of the river Sarayu during Deepotsav celebrations on the eve of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Ayodhya on November 3, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images
People watch a laser show on the banks of the river Sarayu during Deepotsav celebrations on the eve of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Ayodhya on November 3, 2021.

Diwali, a holiday known as the "Festival of Lights" and celebrated primarily in South Asia and the Caribbean, will become an official school holiday in New York City, local leadership announced Thursday.

"Today, South Asian and Indo-Caribbean families, like mine, all over this city have made incredible contributions, and today I am proud to say our time has come," said New York state assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who introduced the legislation. "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."

The bill Rajkumar introduced replaces the Anniversary Day holiday in an effort to not add additional holidays to the calendar and fulfill the minimum 180 days of instruction requirement under New York state law.

"People have said that there's simply not enough room in the New York City school calendar to have a Diwali school holiday," she said. "Well, my legislation makes the room."

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the celebration of Diwali is an opportunity to educate students.

"It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that we see you, we acknowledge you," Adams said. "The inclusiveness of this city is extremely significant, and this is our opportunity to say that in a loud way."

What is Diwali?

Diwali is the most prominent holiday in India and is celebrated by more than 1 billion Hindus around the world. The backstories of the holiday vary across religions and countries, as other sects, such as Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, have adopted their own versions of the holiday.

But the common thread is the festival represents the victory of light over dark, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.

This year's festival begins on Oct. 22.

The exact dates change each year because it follows the lunar calendar, but it is typically celebrated in October or November over a 5-day span:

  • On day one, people clean their homes and shop for things that may bring good fortune, such as gold or new kitchen utensils.
  • On day two, people decorate with clay lamps and rangoli, patterns made on the floor out of colored sand or powders. 
  • Day three is the highlight of the celebration. Families get together for feasts, fireworks and Lakshmi puja, or prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
  • Day four marks the start of the new year, and friends and families exchange gifts and well wishes. 
  • On day five, brothers visit their married sisters and share a meal.
  • Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

    Corrected: October 22, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
    A previous version of this post said Diwali begins on Oct. 24. In fact, the first day of the multiday festival is Oct. 22, though Oct. 24 is the peak of the festival.
    Ayana Archie
    [Copyright 2024 NPR]