In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!’ ~Dave Barry, “Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide”
Holidays usually bring a mix of emotions. This year, with the passing of so many wonderful friends and the recent untimely death of my sister-in-law, it’s all more poignant than ever. I find myself moved by the most ordinary and subtle of experiences. The touch of a child’s hand, the glint of light on water, the drift of leaves from wintering trees, the laughter of friends and family, the warmth of their nearness, all conspire to deepen the sense of shared humanity.
So, too, does the gallimaufry of celebrations that chorus around us at this time of year: Chanukah, the Winter solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa, each with elements of the other. As a UU, I find the blend beautiful, a tribute to the human determination to bring light out of darkness, to wrest hope from fear, and raise joy from sorrow. While some may pine for tradition, the fact is that traditions have traditionally been adapted and worked by many hands from time out of memory to fit the needs and visions of changing cultures and people. Our high winter celebrations are living proof of that.
To find the true “reason for the season,” one need look no further than the common theme which all winter celebrations share: Light. We light menorahs, mishumaa saba, bonfires, yule logs, Christmas trees, houses and yards. And on the New Year, we set the night ablaze with fireworks. The dark nights will only get colder in many parts of the world, but we’ve lit our candles and sung our songs and reaffirmed, briefly but with vigor, our shared hope for peace on earth and goodwill toward all. For a while, we laugh and dance and drink and eat sweet things and call out greetings to one another on the street. And if we cannot do these things, we can at least watch others do them and there’s something in that.
And if we can wish for peace and love and harmony together, even if only for a few weeks of the year, just our shared acknowledgement of that hope brings it within reach, and keeps the promise of our better nature and a brighter world alive and fully possible.
For that reason alone, the season is worth celebrating, and worth raising every lit candle to the heavens!