As we approach the holidays I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities in the way different spiritual traditions celebrate with themes of light. More than at any other time of the year, it is in this season of shortening days, when darkness prevails and seems to have won that people celebrate Light. Perhaps that’s because we take anything for granted when it’s abundant. Our appreciation for something seems only to come as we realize we’ve almost lost it.
So many people suffer with depression at this time of year; a darkness of the soul ensues and with it the ancient fear that all is as it always will be. In darkness our imagination–and our fears–grow. Be without light long enough and it’s hard to remember the feeling of safety it brings. It becomes easy to lose our optimism and give ourselves over to the night and its insecurities. No wonder in December we seek to beckon Light’s return. To light a candle in the darkness is to invite the spirit of hope back into our consciousness.
Maybe that’s why so many religions and spiritual traditions engage in celebrations of Light. Hanukkah commemorates the victory by the Jews over a tyrant king and the miracle of a small quantity of oil to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasting eight days. The 13th of November is huge celebration of light, Diwali, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, is a festival of triumph of good over evil celebrated with light displays, food and fireworks.. It’s a beautiful and colorful celebration. It is not surprising then that Kwanzaa, which celebrates African heritage in African-American culture, also is a celebration of light. In addition to a feast and gift giving. seven candles are lit to symbolize the seven core principles of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is celebrated very near Christmas.
Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, is not in sync with the historical birth of Jesus, but occurs just after the longest night of the year, as the earth slowly tilts once again towards the sun. I wonder if, back in ancient times, the darkness seemed to be winning when Jesus entered the picture. Things were fairly dire in the outposts of the Roman Empire, especially if you were ill or not well off materially; there was poverty and disease, and an Empire not too interested in anything besides tax collecting. For Christians, Jesus is “the Light of the World” that overcame the darkness. Perhaps that is one reason the celebration was moved from Spring to December, just after the winter Solstice.
Time and time again, candles are lit in celebration, commemoration, worship to give us hope and remind us that darkness always gives way to light. The thing is, you have to keep moving, keep bringing light, no matter how dark the night seems, or for how long.
Just as darkness enveloped the Empire, so night envelops us as we wait for the Solstice, which occurs just before we celebrate Christmas. We string small lights onto our homes and trees and sing songs of Peace and Joy. Light once again has overcome the dark. It did back then. It will again.
You will bring it.
For Aimee Levesque and me, Inclusive Theater of WNY is our candle in the darkness. It is the Light we offer to all those who wander in the darkness of exclusion, depression, judgement, fear, harassment, and hopelessness. Through our own difficult experiences we haven’t just come to believe–we KNOW–that to exclude anyone on the basis of something they cannot change (something core to their being) is to foist darkness upon the person, and the world. The world because we believe that each individual brings his/her own light and our calling is to help others to grow their own light and to share it. To extinguish the light of another is ultimate evil. Whether by shaming, blaming, ostracizing, or other means, it is soul murder not to acknowledge, validate and value the unique soul in every single person.