Light in the dark

November 30, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Coming into the darkest months of the year in this hemisphere, there are many festivals of light, some based on ancient pagan rituals; others celebrate the triumph of good over evil; others think about renewed friendships and the importance of light in whatever the darkness is that plagues us.

All such festivals are a welcomed part of the lives of the people celebrating them. Such times of the year are filled with memories of other times, for happier or sadder, like beacons in other places, maybe with other people.

Each of the festivals is born of its own story or stories that are so meaningful they can carry the weight of being repeated and reassuring listeners that they can plant their faith and draw strength from it when they need to. At these times, homes are polished and ready to receive visitors, and the decorations bring a feeling of festivity to the whole neighbourhood: the entire village, town, and city.

Christmas is supported by a pretty intense, action-packed story. The baby Jesus is born in the manger at the back of an inn, where only the resident animals bear witness.

Yet, the story tells of a sky filled with angels rejoicing about the birth, and a tremendous star leads three wise men of importance to bring expensive gifts to the newborn baby, whom they call a king.

A wicked king hears of the boy’s birth and sends his savage men to kill all the newly born boys in the village. The mother and her husband, who is not her baby’s father, flee to find safety. They called the baby Jesus, and his birth is food for celebration, Christmas, and far and wide. Here in Canada, Christmas has been imported, like so many other cultural celebrations from all over the world, ever since Europeans and the myriad of other folk began immigrating to these shores for the last four hundred years. They brought their own cultures’ way of acknowledging Christmas, and many diverse churches are built in Canada.

In, I guess, the last one hundred years, so many more immigrants have come with plenty of other festivals of light and lots of other fine and wonderful stories from which the people who know them take strength and plant their faith.

Diwali, the name means row of lights, which are mainly the traditional earthen oil lamps called diyas. Diwali unites Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains in a five-day celebration of lights, burning incense and “sumptuous meals.

“The significance of diyas is rooted in the Hindu legend of Ramayana. This is the story of Prince Rama, whose wife Sita was abducted. When Rama and Sita returned to their kingdom, Ayodhya, people welcomed them with diyas.” (Aljazeera)

Hanukkah, the important Jewish celebration of eight days.” Though the holiday is popularly known as the festival of lights, it is also the festival of rededication, meant to honour the victory of the Macabee soldiers over the Syrian Greek army.

In their victory, the Maccabees, led by Judah, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to their God. They had only enough oil to ignite the temple light for one night, and yet the light burned for eight days. This instance is referred to as the miracle of Hanukkah and is honoured by lighting a candle on the “menorah” or “Hanukkiah” each night to mimic the one that burned in the Holy Temple so many years ago.

Our Indigenous communities celebrate the Winter Solstice, which falls on Dec. 21, the “shortest day of the year” with the least total daylight. For thousands of years, First Nations communities around the world have recognized the winter solstice as a day of celebration, ritual, and tradition. While here in Canada, many Indigenous communities took on Dec. 25 to align with standard Canadian dates; more people are rediscovering and reviving those traditions. For them, the solstice acts as a day to reclaim them and reconnect to traditions once thought lost forever. (CAMSC) The fact that Christmas is so much about Santa Claus as far as our commercial world is concerned makes it more of a “Holiday” than the religious celebration that it is, but no one should mind hearing Merry Christmas and thinking the wish is meant to overwhelm any other significant cultural times within our very diverse population. The joy of family coming together, of lighting candles and decorating our homes and trees, the annual connection that we make with people we maybe hardly see but for whom our love is not diminished – all this is exciting and precious. What it is called is special, for a name is a call to a family’s, a nation’s tradition, a rack of personal memories. These are times to open our lives and our hearts to wanting to know about what gives others joy and telling them about what matters to us. The best way to live in peace is to understand each other.

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