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Add Diwali, Other Cultural Holidays To Official Holidays Roster

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"Don't tell mum and dad," said my sibling over the phone. "I'm coming home for Diwali this year. It's a surprise."

Though it will not warrant a Hallmark network movie of the week, the news was our own holiday miracle. Here was sis - taking time out of an insane fall work schedule - schlepping it to the West Coast all the way from Ottawa to celebrate a holy day that happened to fall in the middle of the week.

I re-wrote the Irving Berlin classic and started singing, "I'll be home for Diwali, you can plan on me. Please have tea, and jalebi, and diyas, lit brightly..."

As shared experiences go, the biggest festival on the Hindu calendar has come a long way in Canada. In elementary school, classmates insisted I was making Diwali up as way to explain why I was wearing new clothes to school.

Today, many Canadians understand the basic narrative: that Diwali celebrates the homecoming of an exiled God-king, that it represents the triumph of good over evil, or darkness over light. Our neighbours now understand why, in lieu of diyas in rainy Vancouver, the Christmas lights are turned on for a night in October or November instead.

What's behind the transformation? In my mind, it's changing demographics and wily politics. More people of South Asian descent living in Canada means more people observing this time of religious and cultural significance. More teachers, bosses, friends and colleagues at work and at school become aware by extension.

And so-called samosa politics - the practice of politicians courting ethnic votes - has freed up funds for city halls, temples, community centres and cultural groups to hold more inclusive, well organized, well advertised celebrations that were much smaller, more private affairs a generation before.

In short, we've come a long way, Desis. But the true societal shared experience of Diwali remains elusive. Most Diwali celebrations are happening over this long weekend, rescheduled to fit our normal routines. How many children will stay home from school on Tuesday? (Math tests come first!) How many parents will manage to swing the day off to clean their houses, create brightly coloured rangoli patterns on the front steps, and visit friends?

diwali(BAPI ROY CHOUDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)

We will not witness the national migration, the business and government slow down that occurs in China around the time of Lunar New Year, and India around the consecutive festivals of Dashera, Durgashtmi and Diwali. Toronto's Pearson airport will not be packed with frantic Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists trying to make it home for the holiday.

Ultimately, in a lot of non-Christian households, Christmas is still a bigger deal. Why? Because we're surrounded by the holiday spirit. Because we've already got the time off. Because joy, peace and goodwill are pretty good themes to get behind.

Still, if we really want to have a conversation about integration and the joyousness of diversity in the country, we should be discussing whether Canada, founded on the Judeo-Christian values of the English and French, is ready to consider introducing other religious days, such as Lunar New Year or Diwali, to the official roster of statutory days off.

Now I acknowledge, from me, any talk about more stat holidays may seem contradictory. My on-the-record comments about new holidays reflect my belief that they are probably better politics than policy because of the economic costs involved.

In B.C., a new Family Day holiday has been pegged to a fixed date in February. But as long as it's coming, might those of us with non-Christian religious days to observe be better served if some official days off (hello, August long weekend) were re-assigned as official floater statutory holidays instead? Take the day when your religious holiday arrives, or for our atheist friends, whenever you feel like it.

My assessment is that Canadians are not quite there yet. Those changing demographics and wily politicians are still concentrated in this country's urban centers. It may be unfair to spring too much change on rural, more traditional Canada too soon. But 20 years from now, I sincerely hope getting home for Diwali - a holy day that isn't Christmas - isn't the miracle that sis' arrival represents. I hope it's part of a shared experience, a celebration, a homecoming in the truest sense of the word.

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Diwali SFU Celebration In Surrey, B.C.
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