December 22, 2019-
Last night marked the December Solstice, and though I didn’t do anything special to mark the passing of the shortest amount of sunlight, I felt the energy. I call this the December Solstice, being mindful that as we in the North experience cold and darkness, our brothers and sisters in the South have heat and light in their midst. In June, of course, we trade places. Many of us will enjoy a White Christmas, and my hope is that those in the Antipodes will find respite from the fires which have plagued Australia, Africa and the Amazon region, for much of this year.
This evening, Hanukkah begins at sunset, marking the eight days which commemorate the re-dedication of the second Temple of Jerusalem, following its profaning at the hands of the Seleucids (a dynasty of the Persian Empire). The Judean commander, Judah Maccabee, ordered this celebration, so that none would forget the degradation that was followed by resilience. My late wife, our son and I would light the menorah, a candelabrum that is used to hold nine candles, a central one called shamash, or “attendant”, from which the eight other candles are lit, one each evening of the festival. Penny would recite the blessing, in Hebrew, before we lit each candle.
Gold-wrapped candies, called gelt, are often given each night and small gifts may be exchanged, among those celebrating the Festival. It may be that this is the basis for the gift-giving which accompanies the celebration of Christmas, as December 25 either falls within the Hanukkah celebration, or immediately follows it. The rest of what we, in Western civilization and its offshoots, have come to associate with Christmas, largely comes from having adapted the traditions of others, first the Yule tree and its trimmings, along with robust feasting, from the pre-Christian cultures of northern and western Europe, then a host of others: Communal singing, special foods from various cultures which have adopted Christianity and alms for the poor.
The basis of all these holiday traditions, underneath all the pomp and camaraderie, remains spiritual. It was awe, at changes in the celestial realm, that prompted the Druids and their followers to observe Yule. It was the resurgence of Judaism, which inspired Hanukkah. It was the reverence which Christ’s first followers had for His birth, and for His life, which brought about the first Christmas. That it should have taken on elements of the two other great end-of-year celebrations, as well as modern commercialism,does not negate the spiritual basis for the near-universal appeal of Christmas. This is solely owing to the greatness and universality of the character of Jesus the Christ- His love of humanity, His fealty to the Creator and His inherent wisdom.
So, for me, for my family and for all humanity- Let this be, as Judah Maccabee decreed, in the days of resilience after the overthrow of tyranny: A Season of Light.