Diwali, the Festival of Lights, has found a unique venue at the heart of American politics: the White House. Over the years, the celebration has evolved, with each president adding a unique twist to this bright tradition. Let’s take a journey through the years of Diwali celebrations at the White House.
1. Very first Diwali at the White House in 2003: George W. Bush’s enlightening initiative
President George W. Bush started the tradition of Diwali celebrations in 2003. Although he was unable to attend personally, his top policy advisor, Karl Rove, presided over the festivities in the Indian Treaty Room. Rove lit the symbolic brass lamp, conveying President Bush’s personal greetings to the Native American community in attendance. This historic event paved the way for future celebrations.
“Indians celebrated Diwali for the first time at the White House with President George W. Bush’s top policy advisor, Karl Rove, presiding over the festivities…”
2. Barack Obama’s personal Diwali at the White House in 2009
Continuing the tradition, President Barack Obama went further in 2009. He became the first American president to personally celebrate Diwali, lighting a diya in the East Ceremonial Room. With humility, he bowed to a Hindu priest, emphasizing the holiday’s values of reflection and compassion. President Obama’s gesture won him the affection of the Indian community, thereby strengthening Diwali’s place in the White House.
“While this is a time for celebration, it is also a time for reflection, where we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reaching out to those in need,” Mr. Obama.
3. Diya lighting in Obama’s Oval Office in 2016: a symbol of overcoming darkness
In 2016, President Obama marked a new milestone by lighting the first-ever diya in the Oval Office. Expressing hope for the continuation of the tradition, he emphasized the symbolism of light triumphing over darkness. The image of the president lighting the diya went viral on social media and resonated with people around the world.
“It’s a tradition that I hope future presidents continue,” Obama said.
4. Trump’s Diwali celebrations in 2017: continuation and interruption
President Donald Trump continued the Diwali tradition in 2017, lighting a diya alongside his daughter Ivanka and Indian American members of his administration. However, in 2018, the crucial midterm elections disrupted the 15-year tradition of formal Diwali celebrations at the White House. Despite the pause, the Diwali flame continued to burn in the Oval Office, honoring the holiday.
5. Biden’s big Diwali celebration in 2022: a historic gathering
In 2022, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hosted the largest-ever Diwali celebration at the White House, attended by 200 guests. President Biden lit a diya, addressing the importance of Diwali in the Indian American and South Asian American experience. The event highlighted the vibrant tapestry of cultures woven into American history.
“This is the first Diwali reception of this size, in this house, ever held,” President Biden proudly proclaimed.
6. Kamala Harris Diwali 2023 Reception
Vice President Kamala Harris continued the tradition with an early Diwali reception at her official residence in 2023. The event saw influential figures from the Indian and South Asian communities come together for a grand celebration. Vibrant decorations, delicious ethnic cuisine and traditional music marked the festivities, capturing the spirit of Diwali.
As the White House continues to illuminate with the glow of Diwali, each celebration adds a new chapter to this story of cultural harmony and inclusiveness.