USA

Bidens hosts first major Diwali celebration with Kamala Harris at White House


Celebrated by more than a billion people around the world, Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is a five-day religious holiday primarily observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.

This year, for the first time in US history, a historic vice president also hosted an event to mark Diwali.

Kamala Harris, the first person of Indian descent in her role, hosted a reception in honor of the festival on Friday at her Washington residence.

“When the vice president opened her home…many of us and our families felt seen,” a White House staffer said while planning the event. “This celebration of light will empower young people to grow into a world knowing they can be anything and they can celebrate where they come from with pride.”

On Monday, Harris then joined President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at a large-scale Diwali event at the White House.

The guest list included several prominent Indian Americans, including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Representatives Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi, bestselling author Jay Shetty and actor and former White House staffer Kal Penn.

For a holiday characterized by lights, colors, music and dancing, the night’s festivities included sparklers, the lighting of a diya – a tealight candle – signifying the embrace of positivity , a traditional sitar performance and dancers.

“This is the first Diwali reception of this magnitude, in this house, ever held,” President Biden said. (Because of COVID-19, he, the first lady and Harris marked Diwali via social media last year.)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during an event to celebrate Diwali, in the East Room of the White House, October 24, 2022.

Evan Vucci/AP

“I, personally, have such fond memories of celebrating Diwali when I was a kid,” Harris said of the festival, which, as she said, celebrates “good over evil, knowing on ignorance and light on darkness”.

The vice-president recalled how, as a girl, “like many of you”, she, her sister and her mother returned to India to avoid the monsoon season – which she noted with a laugh – to see his mother’s family for Diwali.

She described “waking up in the middle of the night, me and my sister Maya, and going, of course, to the eldest in our family, who was our grandfather. And then, later that day, my mother gave us lit sparklers and we went out into the streets to celebrate this very important occasion.”

Diwali events at the White House began with President George W. Bush in 2003 and also included President Barack Obama lighting a diya in the Oval Office and then-Vice President Biden hosting a reception in 2016.

The White House described Monday’s event as an ode to community, particularly among South Asians and those who had immigrated to the United States.

“Thank you for making this celebration of Diwali such a joyous part of American culture… Thank you for hosting cultural programs that bring us together as people,” the president said. “Thank you for reflecting the soul of who we are as a nation.”

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks after inviting two children on stage during an event to celebrate Diwali, in the East Room of the White House, October 24, 2022.

President Joe Biden speaks after inviting two children on stage during an event to celebrate Diwali, in the East Room of the White House, October 24, 2022.

Evan Vucci/AP

With Asian Americans being the fastest growing racial group in the country, according to the Pew Research Center, the administration’s Diwali celebrations this year represent the nation’s changing demographics. (Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that Diwali would be a public holiday in 2023.)

On Monday evening, Biden commented on another piece of history, quoting Rishi Sunak, who is of Indian descent, becoming Britain’s first non-white prime minister.

“As my brother would say, ‘Go figure.’ … Pretty amazing. A revolutionary step,” Biden said. “And that’s important. That’s important.”

ABC News’ Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

ABC News

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