Friday, December 11, 2009

Festivals of Light

Every year from June to December, the hours of sunlight become fewer and fewer. The shortest day of the year, called the Winter Solstice, will be December 21st. Ancient peoples around the world were fearful of the winter cold, but they knew that the sun would slowly grow stronger after this wintery day. They celebrated the sun's gradual return by focusing the sun's rays, lighting huge bonfires, and placing lighted candles in trees. Is it any wonder that so many of the holidays we celebrate every December are also filled with lights?

Today, December 11th at sunset, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins. Families use the center or shamash candle to light one additional candle on the menorah every night for eight nights, as they remember how their ancestors kept the temple flame burning for eight nights with only one day's oil. On December 13th, children in Sweden and Italy celebrate the Festival of St. Lucia. Young girls wearing lighted candle wreaths on their heads are led from house to house by star boys with lighted wands. Las Posadas begins December 16th and lasts nine days until Christmas Eve for families from Mexico. A family travelling in a posada or procession with lighted lanterns and candles knocks on doors to ask for room at the inn for Mary and Joseph.

When they are finally invited in, there is a community singing, and a celebration with food and pinatas. December 24th-25th most Christians around the world begin to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus by attending candlelit church services. Stars are placed on top of Christmas trees, and homes are decorated with multicolored lights. The holiday continues until January 6th, Three Kings' Day. In other countries, this celebration happens on January 7th-13th due to a different religious calendar. Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration from December 26th to December 31st is marked by lighting seven candles on a kinara to remind families of seven important principles or ideas that are part of their heritage from their African ancestors.

As families, we all have customs and traditions that have been handed down for many generations. Most of these holiday celebrations probably include lights in some way. Will you share the reasons for your holiday lights with your children, as well as those you have read about today? And please join us in the Storytime Room this Monday night December 14th at 7:00 pm to continue learning and celebrating in story and song these holiday Festivals of Light.

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