Diwali to Be a School Holiday: Inclusion Across the City


Diyas from the Diwali celebrations of Saranika Chakraborty (‘25)

After years of protest, the New York City Department of Education announced on October 20th that schools in the city will not be in session on Diwali starting in the fall of 2023. The DOE calendar has long-honored holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Italian Heritage / Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and Eid, and Hindu communities in New York have rejoiced that the city has honored their traditions as well through this measure.

Diwali is observed by people across the city, mostly including those that practice Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is a five-day festival, often regarded as the Festival of Lights, that marks the start of the Hindu New Year. It is celebrated uniquely by different families and communities, but observers often dress up in cultural clothing and light traditional small clay lamps known as diyas to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Families also clean their homes and make rangolis, art patterns made with flower petals, sand, rice, and other materials, which they place at their home entrances to bring good luck.

Private schools, including all members of the New York Interschool Consortium, have given students a day off on Diwali. Students in public schools that also observe the holiday believe that their schools should do the same, and many who recognize the holiday have often taken the day off of school to celebrate.

On September 30th, Raaghav Mittal, a freshman at Stuyvesant High School, started a petition for Diwali to become an official DOE holiday. The petition claimed that “a holiday for Diwali would be an important way to honor the heritage of many New Yorkers from many diverse backgrounds” and quickly received thousands of signatures from people across the city. It brought widespread attention to the issue and eventually lead to the proposition of a new school holiday.

Ritika Deb (‘25), the president of the Brooklyn Tech Hindu Students Council, explained that instead of Diwali, her family celebrates Kali Puja, a similar festival on the same day. Although many temples near her home have grand celebrations for this day, she usually isn’t able to attend due to school responsibilities. She explained that with a day off, “All of us [can] partake in the same spirit and joy of the festival without stressing about homework or school the next morning.”

Prapti Choudhuri (‘25) immigrated to the United States from India and explained that it is difficult to celebrate religious holidays here while having to balance school work. For her family, “[Diwali] started being less important to us.”

Choudhuri expressed frustration that even with the DOE recognizing Diwali, other Hindu holidays are not recognized or included in the school calendar, including the celebration of Durga Puja, an important cultural festival honoring the Hindu goddess Durga. Instead of partaking in festivities, she has to spend hours at school and doing homework.

Deb expressed her joy at hearing that Diwali will be a school holiday in the coming school year, but noted her disappointment at many people’s responses. While scrolling through the comments after the news was released, she noted, “Numerous teachers and [others] were disapproving of the holiday off and complained how this would place scholars at an academic disadvantage…It’s surprising how Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, yet we have no day off on the calendar during our festivals. It’s just not fair.”

Mrs. Shubhra Breivogel, who teaches Geometry and Algebra at Tech, felt frustrated having to work on Diwali, especially in a city where cultural celebrations aren’t always close to home. “We do our best to just celebrate it at home but it doesn’t feel like you’re part of a community.” She added that she did not usually have time to take care of her responsibilities for the festival, such as making sweets and shopping for gifts.

At Tech, although the festival has not been widely acknowledged, the SGO and Hindu Students Council held an event during lunch periods at the center of the cafeteria where students were able to create origami diyas and learn more about the importance of the festival. Breivogel also explained that she tried to integrate the non-religious aspect of the festival into her classroom, such as incorporating rangoli designs in her geometry class.

Many students seemed hopeful with the motion to declare a school holiday for Diwali beginning next school year, even though Diwali is going to be on a Sunday in 2023. It is a step towards inclusivity for students and staff members that practice Dharmic religions across the city.