The season of winter light is upon us. A lot of candlighting happens and while it looks great, the twinkling can blind you to the deeper spiritual meaning behind the lighting we do.
The twinkling candles of Diwali are lighting homes for five dark evenings starting today. For Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, the candlelighting of Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Family and friends are a core part of the holiday week.
Late autumn ushers in Yule in Denmark, where I lived for many years, and is traditionally is a time to bring in the greens of nature, decorating your space with fragrant branches from fir, spruce and pine trees as well as pine cones and berries – and light candles.
The first of four green Advent candles will be lit at the end of November by Christians, symbolizing the longing of the soul and expectations before we see the celebratory red lights of Christmas trees in memory of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the beginning of December, millions of people worldwide who believe in of God, Jews, will light blue and white candles on the menorah for Hanukkah (The Festival of Lights). The eight-day festival, which sometimes can start as early as late November, brings what I learned as an expatriate in Denmark as “hygge” – coziness – to our communities and homes, especially in the frigid cold, snow and sunless dark days of the Yule season.
The many years I lived in Denmark taught me that hygge (hoo-gah) is more than an event. It is a state of being that sustains you through the coldest, harshest times of life. Hygge illuminates, warms, softens, strengthens and comforts the soul. This can mean warm socks, hot chocolate, beer or wine and a sweet dessert shared with friends in a candlelit room or in front of a fireplace. It might be a warm sweater, shawl or blanket covering you as you read a good book.
The hygge of Hanukkah is the warm, joyous light that comes as we celebrate the freedom to worship God with candles, family, friends and (fried) food. Hanukkah hygge is also our lighting the bridge between ourselves and others through tzedakah and a commitment to As the harvest season ends, we come to Saturnalia or the Winter Solstice with the shortest day/longest night of the year. It is the official start of the winter season.
On that evening, I am always reminded to embrace Saturnalia hygge. That means making time and space for those who are out in the cold in any sense of the word. Often on December 21, I have traditionally gathered with others to cook and share a community supper of hot soup and bread. That is followed by hot chocolate and delicious chocolate desserts. Topping off the evening, we sing andplay games, until after midnight. Did you know the Winter Solstice typically has a high suicide rate? Evening events like this can dramatically lower those numbers? It is about bringing light to our kindred human beings.
In celebration of my African heritage one one last winter candlelighting of the year. I observe Kwanzaa from December 26 through January 1. It is seven days of joyous reflection celebration of African heritage. Each night, those who celebrate Kwanzaa light candles in the kinara, a special candelabra. Over the week we will light seven black candles, fifteen red candles, and six green candles (all tapers) for the principles of
collective work and responsibility
Find what is meaningful for you and deepens your faith and practice. For example, I will decorate my home with greens that remind me of God’s beautiful creation. Additionally, I will create a cozy space with candlelight, then celebrate both Hanukkah and Kwanzaa at home.
What can you do to bring light into your space in late autumn and early winter? What meaning does it have for you?
How will you embrace light this year, in a year which has been especially isolated and harsh?
In what way(s) can you incorporate light in new ways or find new meaning in your current lighting practices? How can you use it to strengthen your spiritual practice and build your resilience?