America’s minority religions certainly are getting a nice reception at the White House these days, with the latest celebration — the Hindu holiday of Diwali — taking place this afternoon in the East Room. Known as the Hindu “festival of lights,” it begins Saturday.
One Indian publication noted that while President George W. Bush actually started the observances, he personally never took part and the ceremony was not held in the main White House.
Well, that was then.
I am including some of President Obama’s remarks to an audience of mainly Asian-Americans from a prepared speech released by the White House:
Mr. Obama: “I think it’s fitting that we begin this work in the week leading up to the holiday of Diwali — the festival of lights — when members of some of the world’s greatest faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil.
“This coming Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world, will celebrate this holiday by lighting Diyas, or lamps, which symbolize the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. And while this is a time of rejoicing, it’s also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need.
“While the significance of the holiday for each faith varies, all of them mark it by gathering with family members to pray and decorate the house and enjoy delicious food and sweet treats. And in that spirit of celebration and contemplation, I am happy to light the White House Diya, and wish you all a Happy Diwali, and a Saal Mubarak.” (Applause.)
(The White House Diya is lit.) (Applause.)
I can hear it now: Folks asking why the president celebrates Jewish, Muslim and now Hindu holidays but snubbed the evangelical Protestant organizers of the National Day of Prayer last May, who didn’t get anywhere near the White House — although some Indians aren’t happy with the way Mr. Obama celebrated Diwali, as is recorded here.
In case the president is looking for other faiths to honor, there are two major Baha’i holidays on Oct. 20 and 29, not to mention the Wiccan celebrations for Samhain/Halloween on the 31st.
— Julia Duin, religion editor