What is Diwali? What to Know About the Festival of Lights

Diwali is a “time for thanksgiving and prayer for health, knowledge and peace"

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Millions of people across the world will gather together Thursday in the 2021 celebration of Diwali, the "Festival of Lights."

Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi called the festival a critical holiday that can allow Americans to “celebrate…the triumph of light over darkness” amid the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Here's what to know about this year's celebration:

What is Diwali?

According to Krishnamoorthi, Diwali is a “time for thanksgiving and prayer for health, knowledge and peace.”

The name Diwali comes from Sanskirt Deepavali, which means "row of lights," the Old Farmer's Almanac wrote. The five-day festival celebrates the triumph of light over dark and good over evil.

During the celebration, adherents light oil lamps and place them around their homes, praying for health, knowledge and peace.

In India, where the holiday originated, and other parts of the world, the festival lasts for five days, and takes place at the end of the last month of the Hindu lunar calendar.

According to the almanac, Diwali occurs on the darkest day of the lunar month, which is also the day of the new moon. This year, the new moon is on Nov. 4, though next year it will be on Oct. 24.

What Happens During the 5-Day Festival?

In India, where the holiday originated, Diwali typically lasts five days as opposed to just one. Here's how the festival is celebrated, according to the almanac:

Day 1
Indians clean their homes and create rangoli, which are designs made of colored rice, sand or flowers, on the floor.

Day 2
The day is spent preparing or buying special food, particularly sweets called mithai, and praying for ancestral spirits in the afterlife.

Day 3
This is the main day of Diwali for most Indians, celebrated with families gathering to light lanterns and candles in their homes and along their streets, as well as erupt fireworks.

Day 4
In many traditions, the fourth day celebrates the bond between husband and wife, so spouses will typically give gifts to one another.

Day 5
The day traditionally celebrates the bond between siblings, specifically between brothers and sisters.

Who Celebrates Diwali?

The festival is observed annually by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others throughout the United States, including those in the Indian-American community.

Numerous countries, including India, Fiji, Malaysia, Pakistan and Singapore, observe Diwali as a national holiday.

Is Diwali a National Holiday in the US?

No, not as of 2021.

However, Krishnamoorthi has agreed to co-sponsor a piece of legislation to make the observation of Diwali a national holiday in the United States.

The legislation, introduced in the House by New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, would make Diwali the 12th federal holiday recognized by the United States.

“The celebration of the triumph of light over darkness is especially important during this pandemic,” Krishnamoorthi said on social media.

Currently there are 11 recognized federal holidays, with the latest holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day, being added to the calendar in 2021.

According to federal law, holidays designated by Congress apply to federal institutions and the District of Columbia. Banks, schools and select companies typically observe federal holidays, but are not required by law to do so.

Earlier this week, Krishnamoorthi also introduced a resolution “recognizing the religious and historical significance” of the festival.

“I want to wish a safe and happy Diwali to all the families gathering with loved ones to light lamps in their homes, and to pray for good health and peace for all people,” he said.

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