21 December 2015
I have a theory. When distilled into its simplest essence, holiday decorating is about bringing light to a dark time of the year. Winter Solstice, which falls somewhere around 21 December, marks the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. Around then, we set our world aglow. It is as though the world unites in its desire to drive back the cold and welcome the light.
We deck halls and trees with twinkling lights, transforming winter into a glistening fairy land. Gutters and windows lined like gingerbread with glowing icing brighten winter evenings. Miniature villages glow with train displays. Germanic children carefully balance wreaths of candles on their heads as Saint Lucia or Christkindle. The Spanish Las Posadas includes a musical procession through neighborhoods with candles and lamps in remembrance of the Christian Holy family. Like miniature landing guides for Santa’s sleigh, luminaria line walkways on Christmas Eve. Angels and halos brighten manger scenes. The Wise Men followed a star to Bethlehem. Perhaps all the holiday glitz reflects an attempt to emulate their wisdom, guided by light.
The winter’s long nights weigh upon many, leaving a longing for warmth and sunlight. The clinical term for the malady is Seasonal Affected Disorder, or S.A.D. To combat the melancholy that sometimes accompanies longer nights, we use more electricity. We light candles. We set yule logs aflame. We fill the winters with holidays’ brightness and gaiety, prayerful reflection and song. Parishioners who avoid church throughout the year sometimes find themselves among congregations of believers. It seems as though every religion seeks some way to bring a spark to the gloom. Fireworks set night skies aflame with brilliant displays, especially at New Years and on Chinese New Year, celebrated in January or February depending on the lunar calendar. My Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights, which also moves according to the religious calendar. This year they celebrated earlier in the month by lighting a menorah which in commemoration of a miraculous victory over the Maccabees. From 26 December to 1 January, Kwanzaa reflects on seven important African values — unity, self-determination, faith, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economic, purpose, and creativity — by lighting candles. Bonfires are set to coax back the sun by pagan believers. Pancha Ganapati lasts from 21 until 25 December to honor Ganesha with offerings including lamps. Iftar Parties are illuminated by hanging lamps during Ramadan.
Ancient Roman legend had Mithra born at dawn on the 22nd of December of a virgin mother. Emphasizing the dreams of the young, they observed Sol Invicus, or the unconquered sun with songs and celebrations.
Although I am by no means an expert on world religions, I do see the attractiveness of bringing radiance to the darkness. My heart revels in the beauty of holiday decorations, and I seek our universality, finding thoughts of similar aspirations warming and wonderful.
Perhaps you’ll take advantage of the longer nights to spend quality time with loved ones, hearts wrapped in the radiance of acceptance. Perhaps the sparkly lights will serve as a beacon and guide us to greater wisdom. Certainly, that is my hope. I wish all who read this find their nights lit warm and beautiful, overflowing with love and blessings.
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