Even as the Arizona sun keeps shining down on us during our unusually warm December, I like to reflect on the meaning of winter holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah, Winter Solstice rituals and all the ways different cultures celebrate light during the darkest days of the year.
I was listening to one of Cathy Heller's podcasts and she was telling the story of Hanukkah - the miracle that after a devastating battle and before returning home the soldiers' lamp burned for 8 nights when there was only enough oil for one. This story is well known but then Cathy told how a friend mentioned how amazing it was that they lit the lamp at all. That after such destruction and chaos and tragedy, they still wanted that light burning before doing anything else, even going back home.
I was touched because I didn't grow up with Hanukkah - our family celebrated Christmas and I've always loved its magical, child-like aspects. Compared to the all encompassing nature of the US Christmas Extravaganza, Hanukkah seems a much simpler celebration. And I've known many folks brought up in the Jewish faith to kinda slough it off as no big deal - especially compared to splendor and 'wow' of Christmas trees and Christmas morning and all. My hubby is Jewish, which made me pay more attention - even more than he probably would on his own!
But now I realized that this holiday is really all about light. Christmas, of course, is also about light - usually in a literal sense, with all the decorative lights strung inside and outside of homes and streets and town centers. And for Christians, there's the light of the Star of Bethlehem guiding the Three Kings and the light of the infant Jesus being born. But it all gets buried under the sheer weight of social obligations and intense schedules and stress and busy-ness.
Whereas the main symbol of Hanukkah is the menora with its many lights building on each other for over a week, each candle marking an ancient miracle. And whether or not you believe the literal story, the symbolism is the beautiful part. Each light adds to the others to make the darkness a little brighter. Each candle lights another without diminishing its own flame. And that's us - or how we could be. Shining our own light, lighting up others' and creating a warm glow when the world otherwise seems so dark. And then going on shining even beyond what we thought we were capable of. And these days, we need as much of each others' light as possible!
So this season, let's celebrate our own light and the light in each other. Especially in our woefully divisive country, let's find that flicker of love and humanity that shines - even if dimly - in all of us. And if we can't see someone else's light, maybe there's some small way that you can send a spark of Love that will ignite in their heart without dimming your own flame.
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, stay bright so we can all find our paths into a new year and possibly even a new world.
Photo by Avital Pinnick