“Untermyer Gardens Illumination”
Photo courtesy of Jessica Norman
In the beginning there was light. Then there was the winter solstice, Hanukkah and Christmas. Observances that normally occur at the same time—when daylight takes a winter vacation!
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year. Hanukkah, dates back to the second century B.C.E. when a small band of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee drove the Greeks out of Israel and relit the Eternal Light in the temple in Jerusalem. And, of course, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus.
In the winter solstice the sun goddess Freya gave birth to her son, the sun, which reindeer pulled in a chariot through the night until her son/sun arose the next morning.
Hanukkah. On each of the eight nights of Hanukkah a candle is lit to symbolize the oil the Jews found in the temple and used to kindle the Eternal Light above the alter until a fresh supply could be found.
Christmas. The Christmas tree, adorned with lights of many colors, shines brightly in the darkest corner of the house. Cities compete for the tallest and broadest tree and, some years ago, the town of Armonk, New York, where I lived, donated a magnificent evergreen to Rockefeller Center in New York. Why an evergreen? Because that species of tree, retaining its green needles through the year, represents ongoing life rather than death.
So what do the winter solstice, Hanukkah and Christmas have in common? Increased light at the darkest time of the year—and each of these festivals has a definite progression. The fullness of illumination does not arrive instantly. Instead it proceeds in measured steps. Following the solstice each day lengthens slowly—only minutes at a time. Imperceptible. Then, suddenly, spring arrives! And Hanukkah? Each year at Hanukkah I place candles in the eight branches of the Menorah, the candelabra. One candle on the first night, two on the second, three on the third, until finally, after eight days, all the candles are lit. My neighbor, who enjoys a Christmas tree on his front lawn, next to the lake, turns on lights beginning from the bottom of the tree and rising to the peak of the evergreen.
There they are—the three festivals of light—corresponding to a philosophy of life. We all experience dark moments but, eventually, they pass. Bit by bit our lives can regain there vitality and joy. The phenomena may take time but the brightness, which seems to have vanished, will return if we are patient and continue to wait for the chariot of the sun goddess to sweep across the sky. Wait for the candlelight to spread over the candelabra. Wait for light to flood the evergreen.
It will come. Gradually, the light will come.
P.S. I apologize for the serious nature of this blog but nothing exciting is happening in the world of loons!