My Jewish husband does a good job with Christmas lights. I can’t say he looks forward to it. On the contrary, he puts it off as long as possible. But once a critical mass of houses on the street are plugged in for the holiday season, he’ll dutifully dig out the boxes from the storage room and set up the ladder.
He’s developed a complex system of wrapping the limbs of our dogwood trees in white lights, tacking another string around the portico, hanging icicles across the carport, and giving a final splash of illumination to the bushes. In the early years of our marriage, I’d weigh in on visual imbalances in his design choices. But now he’s got it down and I’ve let go of micromanaging.
I take care of the holiday decorating inside the house, starting with the lights on the Christmas tree. More lights are hung on garland, one expanse draped over the stair banister, another framing the kitchen window. Candles are interspersed everywhere, including on the mantel, where they bookend the menorahs and Christmas décor sharing the space.
My husband and I each have one Jewish and one Christian parent, and grew up with both traditions. But since Judaism is passed down through the mother’s line, he is “officially” Jewish, while I am not. Since I believe that all religions are pointing to the same truth anyway, I’m not concerned with labels. We embrace the breadth of our heritage by celebrating all of it.
While we have an array of Jewish and Christian symbols displayed in our home over the holidays, the lights are what tie it all together. The lights point to the commonality of the message.
And I’m not only talking about Judaism and Christianity. Festivals of light have been around since pagan times, and continue to this day across religions and cultures. Hinduism’s festival of light, Diwali, celebrates the triumph of light over darkness with lamps and fireworks. The Lunar New Year, Kwanzaa, and Santa Lucia Day are other examples of holidays celebrating light during the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere.
Indeed, it’s “the light”–in every meaning of the word–that we celebrate around the winter solstice. The website souledout.org puts it this way:
“Winter Solstice holidays have been with us for thousands of years, begun at the dawn of agriculture among people who depended upon the return of the sun. Many of these holidays celebrate light literally, but for many, there is also the symbolic meaning of light ~ Wisdom.”
I’d go further than that. Light is one of the oldest and most meaningful symbols around. No matter what our religious or cultural background (unless you are of the vampire persuasion), we all love light. In literature and paintings throughout history, light represents not only wisdom, but also rebirth, goodness, purity, hope, the Holy Spirit, faith, Jesus (“the light of the world”), life-giving energy, well being, and joy.
And we need the light more than ever this holiday season in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Like millions of other people in the United States and around the world, not a day has gone by since the shootings that my heart hasn’t broken all over again for those families.
I hadn’t realized the weight of it all until I got up a few days ago on my usual schedule, long before the sun was up. I padded down the hallway towards the stairs to let the dog out. Something felt different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
It was the light–the light glowing on the trees in the front yard, spilling through the windows into the darkness of the house. It almost felt like a reassuring caress, that hint of brightness that met me in the hallway. My spirit lifted for the first time since the Newtown news broke on December 14th.
I decided then and there to do what I could to put the power of the holiday to work. I’m singing Christmas carols unabashedly, baking cookies with gratitude, and watching White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time.
I am filled with Christmas spirit and holiday spirit writ large. I’m choosing to be happy to honor those families, hoping to shine a light and disperse the darkness, rather than letting the darkness prevail.
So as Somebody Important once said, let there be light!
Happy holidays, everyone!