Light is a common strand (pardon the pun!) in holiday celebrations. In fact, the earliest gifts for New Years were candles! Both artificial light, whether it be a flaming yule log, or a string of LEDs on a tree, pay homage to ancient traditions celebrating the return of sunlight and longer days. There are many celebrations of light to explore.
Saint Lucia Day (December 13) is a Scandinavian celebration, of, among other things, light. While seemingly named for an early christian martyr, this holiday’s traditions are secular in origin. Norse rituals celebrated light on the darkest night of the year, (winter solstice), using the calendar of the time. Festivals celebrated that the demons of winter were banished by the coming sun. Work was forbidden for fear of Lussi, an enchantress, who would punish anyone who worked.
As Christianity moved into the area, Saint Lucia was added to the celebration. Traditionally, the eldest daughter wears a wreath of evergreen lingonberry branches with a crown of candles and serves her family a special breakfast in bed while singing a special song. The original Italian version of the song is about a sailor enjoying the sea in Santa Lucia. Other versions are about welcoming light into darkness. The wreath is evergreen, symbolizes the coming spring.
Diwali is celebrated in India as well as many countries in southeast asia, the south pacific and southeast asia. It, typically happens in the fall and among other things, celebrates light and the triumph of good over bad and knowledge over ignorance. It also celebrates community and incorporates a fresh start with a deep cleaning of the home. Lanterns are lit and gifts are exchanged. Community events and parties are held over five days.
Hanukkah celebrates light, too. The Maccabees successfully revolted against those that were forcing them to worship greek gods, among other things (at least according to some). And, when they successfully restored themselves in a beloved temple, the quantity of oil they had to keep their sacred lamp lit should only have lasted 1 day. Instead, it lasted 8. From the Jewish perspective, this celebrates a win of being able to worship as they wished and what some see as a miracle of the oil lasting 8 days. In modern interpretations, it also encourages folks to let their light shine as a positive influence on the world. This tie is a bit more troubling to me since much of what the Greeks were trying to curtail were things like circumcision and daily animal sacrifice.
Yule Log The word Yule is traced back to the Anglo-Saxon word hwéol (wheel). The Norse believed the sun was a wheel of fire that rolled away from them in the winter and rolled back in the spring. On winter solstice, families would go to the forest to find a log to burn. Many superstitions surrounded this practice. Some involved certain family members having certain roles. Others involves whether or not the log lit on the first attempt. Still others had to do with what to do with the remaining stump and ashes.
In France the Christmas log or Souche de Noël, is a dessert! A cake roll, similar to a jelly roll and decorated like a log. Some folks believe this was a modernization of the yule log tradition for families who didn’t have a fireplace. Delicious in any case!
Candletime, is a sweet tradition we have adopted in our family. It gives us an opportunity to slow down and savor our family time in the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Next, we will bring it all together and talk about how a secular family might celebrate. How can you make the holidays your own? So, How Do We Celebrate?
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