Getting to Know Our Community
Let There be Light
As we enter the final months of the year, it is interesting to note the similarities and differences across the various religious and cultural holidays. One aspect of holidays at this time of year is the focus on light.
Chanukah, Hanukkah (Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is a celebration of miracles, observed for eight nights and days at the end of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which this year falls at the end of November and beginning of December. Sharing the light is encouraged as a way of celebrating the miracles, and there is a tradition to place the menorah candelabra in front of a window.
Diwali, or Dipawali, is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year (celebrated this past month). Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians.
Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually held on the 6th day. Kwanzaa is based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa, including West and Southeast Africa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966. Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a Kinara (candle holder for seven candlesticks) and Mishumaa Saba (seven candles)
Christmas is the Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus’s birth. Popular modern customs of the holiday include church-going, gift giving, Christmas music and caroling, an exchange of Christmas cards; and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. Christmas trees are brightly and beautifully decorated, rooms are often strung with lights, and in some communities entire houses are lit up with spectacular scenes to add to the celebration.
What is it about light that encourages its use in celebration of holidays by so many people for so many different reasons? Ancient traditions involving fire and lights on the longest night of the year can be found all across the world. These winter solstice gatherings often celebrate the year’s harvest, along with expressions of hope and belief that longer sunny days will come again. These seasonal celebrations can be traced through history to the rise of agriculture as a way of life.
While details vary between cultures, there are traditions of observing winter solstice throughout the Northern Hemisphere (where it’s usually observed on December 21 or 22) and Southern Hemisphere (where it’s usually June 21 or 22).
Along with a symbolic connection to the sun and crops, many cultures believe the lights represent knowledge, goodness and a way to ward off sadness we may feel during the darkest time of year.
What other behaviors cross religious and spiritual borders to add to celebrations like this? One is the gathering of family and friends to eat special meals. Another is the performance of specific rituals. For some, the giving of gifts is an important aspect.
Light is a symbol of hope and regeneration. Whatever “Festival of Light” is important to you, we hope you enjoy it. And we encourage you to check out other light festivals that you may not be so familiar with, as we continue to learn about one another..