Diwali or Deepavali is celebrated annually by the people of India and religiously observed as a major festival of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists across various states of the nation and in the neighbouring countries. As the name goes, the festival of lights, 'Diwali', is the victory of good over evil celebrated over five days in the country by people of all faiths. These five days are:
the actual Diwali day,
then Govardhan Puja and
Lastly, Bhai Dooj.
Some of the festival's major attractions are shopping for clothes, accessories, jewellery (especially gold), gifts, sweets, firecrackers, and making rangoli. Accordingly, having Diwali holidays seems notably logical for every Indian.
Now the festival of lights is introduced as a Federal Holiday in the United States (US). Yes! A Bill was introduced in the US Congress on 3rd November by Democrat Representative, Carolyn Mahoney, making Diwali a nationally recognised federal holiday in the United States.
Diwali and the US
It would have been a task for Americans to pronounce the word 'Diwali' a few decades ago. When AIA (Association of Indians in America), the Indian community organisation in America three decades ago, held the Diwali Mela in New York, not much was known, and support was little to none. Then fast forward to today, the event is captured and featured with sweets, rangoli, diyas, and lights in the mainstream and specialised publications with elaborate features of Diwali.
Diwali in India is celebrated by people of all religions, irrespective of their norms and traditions. Similarly, as Indian-Americans celebrate Diwali, they take their narrative forward across America, leading many of their foreign friends and acquaintances to join in the celebration.
Citing this, one can only imagine how many millions of dollars of sweets, rasgullas, and gulab-jamuns are sold before, during and after the Diwali season. Public celebrations of Diwali are popping up from parks and museums to Disneyland and Times Square. America is becoming more and more multicultural, where grandchildren of multiple ethnicities love bhelpuri, sweets, and samosas. Having gatherings with Bollywood singers and dance parties to having Bazaars of mouth-watering food, saris, and other ethnic goodies with lighting ceremonies for diyas are examples of Diwali celebration in America.
President Obama lit the first-ever Diya (oil lamp) in the oval office of the White House to commemorate Diwali. Indeed in this new America with so much inclusion of races and faces, Diwali is a festival here to stay. The main idea of Diwali is a source of healing to many.
What is a Federal Holiday?
In the United States, a federal holiday is a day recognised by the United States federal government as a National holiday. On a Federal holiday, all the non-essential federal government offices are closed. The stock market trading is also suspended, and this is a paid leave for federal government employees.
The United States Congress designates these federal holidays in Title V of the USC (United States Code). These federal holidays can be created only by Congress for the Federal institutions. Other institutions such as banks, schools, and businesses may be closed on a federal holiday as a general rule of courtesy. The original four holidays were:
New Year's Day
Now, the United States has 12 such Federal holidays recognised and celebrated annually.
New Year's Day
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Juneteenth National Independence Day
The Reason and Supporting Rationale for the Bill
Congresswoman Representative, Carolyn, held a live press conference on 3rd November, which had many of the other representatives of the Congress serving the Congressional districts and members of the Indian diaspora—Raja Krishnamoorthi, Gregory Meeks, Uma Sen Gupta, Dr Sumita Sen Gupta and Dr Urmilesh Arya.
Maloney started by wishing Diwali. She exclaimed, "I want to start by wishing a Happy Diwali to all those celebrating around the world this week as the time of reflection and renewal. This beautiful festival celebrates light over darkness, goodness over evil and knowledge over ignorance".
She then introduced the solitary Bill by adding that she was delighted and excited to introduce the Deepavali Day Act that week alongside members of the Congressional Indian Caucus, which would enshrine Diwali into a federal holiday. She continued by saying, "My Bill today recognises the importance of this beautiful holiday and gives it respect and acknowledgement by Americans".
The United States has the largest population of people celebrating Diwali outside of Asia. Moreover, for many Americans, this holiday marks the beginning of the New Year. Collectively celebrating this moment is the idea and soul of the Bill.
The enthusiasm of Maloney regarding Diwali was evident in her speech through appreciative words for the significance of the festival. "It is truly appropriate that Diwali this year symbolises our nation's continuing journey out of the darkness of COVID-19 and the terrible effects that Democrats depended on the people of our nation," she said.
Celebrations like Diwali speak to the core of what we all desire for our nation—to be a beacon of happiness, healing, learning, and light in uncertain times. "My colleagues, the Indian-American community leaders and I believe that there is no better time to enshrine Diwali as a federal holiday than in the wake of this terrible dark pandemic," Maloney said. She has fought for this Bill as she feels "a relatively small action would mean so much more than a holiday to millions of people."
Maloney has significantly contributed to introducing many Bills like the Financial Transparency Act (2019), Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act (2019), Gun Show Loophole Closing Act (2019) and many more down the years, which adds confidence in the passing of this Bill.
Krishnamoorthi, another democrat supporting the Bill, expressed his happiness through the press conference. She was proud to join Chairwoman Maloney and their colleagues in introducing the legislation to establish Diwali as a federal holiday to recognise its importance to their nation, which has more than three million Americans of Indian descent, including Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. The meaning of that legislation extends beyond honouring the significance of Diwali to the Indian-American community and acknowledging Indian-Americans' contributions to their nation.
Krishnamoorthi highlighted the cause for Diwali's inclusion in the Federal Holidays as well. Quoting him, "On this holiday of Diwali, we should say, be the light you wish to see in the world. Be the light of your community that is needed to dispel the darkness. Be the light in this community that brings hope to the hopeless. Let us be the light that helps the last, the least and the last."
Dr Sumita Sen Gupta, author, educator, and community leader in New York, urged the Senate and US Congress to pass this Bill for all future Americans and future generations to enjoy this festival, strengthening their values and bond between citizens and families across America.
Another powerful congressman Gregory Meeks supported this legislation and said that Diwali should be shared with the American society, integrating the values. "It is a good day because we are talking about light over darkness," Meeks said.
He also added that the House of Foreign Affairs Committee would advocate and support the Bill for moving it forward. If the Bill gets passed in the coming years, the Diwali holiday would be observed in the federal institutions and other educational and commercial institutions, honouring the cultural heritage of the millions who celebrate the festivals, especially the significant Indian-American population.
Going forward, hearing about just the exclusive ceremonies of Diwali in America will not be the scene as a federal holiday would mean having all the people out for a celebration. The youth especially is an excellent reason for the Bill to have significance. Gen Z has crossed various barriers for inclusivity and has also paved the way for many more such legislations to increase the richness of the social fabric of America and hence, influence and inspire the world. Concentrating on the core and not the outer cover is the speciality of modern Americans. Acceptance of Diwali has not taken place now due to the Bill. It was built and is present in the hearts of the Indian-Americans and the Americans, recognising, celebrating, and flourishing the values and ideals of the Dipawali.