It never ceases to amaze me how similar, rather than how different, people are. And each year at this time, I’m reminded of that truism because different cultures and religions welcome a similar image – a candle – as a meaningful symbol in their rituals, celebrations, worship, traditions.

In that symbolic image … we share a powerful similarity … those who follow the ancient Celtic tradition of Winter Solstice place a candle in their window as a symbol of light overcoming darkness … the eight day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is marked by the lighting of an eight-candled Menorah on each day of Hanukkah, often referred to as the Festival of the Lights … the four week Season of Advent before Christmas Day is marked by the lighting of a different candle each Sunday anticipating the hope, peace, love and joy of the Season of Christmas as candles/lights on Christmas trees and wreaths continue the theme of light and focus on the man, Jesus, believed by Christians to be the Light of the World.

Today, December 26th, African culture and history is celebrated in the United States by the seven day festival of Kwanzaa. That’s today! During Kwanzaa (a Swahili word for ‘first’ meaning ‘first fruits’), a special candle holder (a Kinara) holds seven candles: three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right with a black candle in the centre.

The seven Kinara candles represent the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa (Unity, Self-Determination, Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith). Each night during Kwanzaa a candle is lit … the centre (black) candle is lit first and on each of the subsequent nights of Kwanzaa, the black candle alternates between the red and green candles (stating with the ones on the outside and moving inwards) – which is similar to the lighting of the Shamash candle in the centre of the Menorah which then lights the other lights in the stand for Jewish people in their celebration of Hanukkah.

And before the month of December, there is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, symbolizing the spiritual ‘victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance’ where, in northern India, they celebrate the defeat of their enemy by lighting rows of clay lamps. There are likely others but suffice to say, light is an important symbol for many people, cultures, religions.

To those who put a light in their window each night throughout the ancient tradition of Winter Solstice … to those who light the Menorah on each of the eight days of Hanukkah … to those who light the candles on each of the four weeks of the Season Advent … to those who place lights in wreaths and trees throughout the twelve days of the Season of Christmas, in Solstice, Hanukkah and tonight, a Happy Kwanzaa as they begin their seven nights of lighting the Kinara, thank you for keeping the light going.

May the light shine from within each of us – through each of us – and beyond each of us – so that when we watch the news and become disenchanted, distressed, concerned or fearful by the growing spread of the pandemic, we focus more on what ‘unites’ us than what ‘divides us’ … as President John F. Kennedy reminded us “remember that what unites us is greater than what separates us.”

© June Maffin

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And now, I’m off to light a candle for our world.

© June Maffin