The Festival of Lights

Writing as a Judeo-Christian, Christmas in Western modernity is not only a time of year celebrated cross-culturally and in different ways, but for me also a time of reflection and illumination.

Stories and literature relating to Christmas speak of different things, yet to me there seems to be some common underlying themes.  For example, Advent, the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, lasts for 40 days and commences on the Sunday closest to November 30.  Each Sunday before Christmas a candle is lit to symbolize one of four weekly themes; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. In some churches and homes a fifth candle bigger than the others, is lit to represent Christ as the light of the world.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights which commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple at the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BCE, also incorporates the use of candles.  Again, I can’t but help draw a parallel between these two profound expressions of hope after adversity, and of light as an illuminator and correspondence for truth.  The eight-day festival is characterised by, amongst other devotional acts, the nightly lighting of the menorah.  The menorah candlestick holds nine flames one of which, the Shamash is used to light all the others.

And when looking at Nordic traditions, the custom of burning the Yule log was practiced long before medieval times.  Placed on the fire in the family hearth, the log was kept burning throughout the 12 days of Christmas.

Fire and light, warmth and illumination, and symbolic acts representing the combatting of evil and the overcoming of darkness symbolised by the birth of the Christ-child.  Human beings around the world appear united by these themes at Christmas, as much as they are by faith, love and hope.  There will always be the darkness of mankind’s deeds casting their ill-intent toward others, but so too there will always be the light and those who embody it who will rise up to meet and overcome that darkness.  Darkness will last for a little while, but in the end, it will always fade away.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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