By Angela Yarber
When the media proclaims a supposed “war on Christmas” and chain stores debate the legitimacy of wishing shoppers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” it is important to remember that all of us — liberals and conservatives, Baptists and Buddhists — share something in common this time of year: darkness.
Those of us who follow the liturgical calendar know that we aren’t yet actually in the Christmas season. We dwell in the deep blue darkness of Advent, when we wait, long and prepare for light to be birthed into our world.
The most recent meeting of our monthly embodied spirituality class happened to fall on the winter solstice, when the sun sets the earliest of the entire year. We meditated, stretched and embodied our prayers by the light of candles, acknowledging the importance of even the smallest amount of light during these long and dark winter days.
Advent is not the lone holiday that celebrates flickering light growing in the darkness. In addition to Advent and the Solstice, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters are in the beginning nights of Hanukkah, a festival of lights. Each night a candle is lit as we remember, “such is the way of creation: first comes darkness, then light.”
This week also hosts the Wiccan holiday of Yule, which marks the New Year and the celebration of the birth of the God as the winter-born king, symbolized by the rebirth of the life-generating and life-sustaining sun. Yule is a time for ritually shedding the impurities of the past year and for meditating on ways to develop your spirit in the year to come.
Dec. 22 is also Tohji-taisai, the Shinto grand ceremony of the winter solstice. Tohji-taisai celebrates the joy of the sun ending its yin period as it declines in strength, and the beginning of the yang period as its power grows stronger and stronger as the days lengthen. The sun is of central importance in Japan, expressing the presence of the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami.
As we continue to dwell in the dark winter night sky for a few more days, Advent will end and the Christmas season will begin. Like the brightening of days, the liturgical colors shift from deep blue or purple to bright white or gold. Light is birthed. The sun grows stronger. Emmanuel is with us.
As the 12 days of Christmas begin, so too, does Kwanza, a West African holy season where the candles of a seven-branched candelabrum are lit to represent seven holy attributes: unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Each of these meaningful wisdom traditions holds unique value that should not be overlooked. The last thing we should do is neglect their uniqueness by combining them all into one holy candle that glimmers in the darkness. I urge us all to learn more about the nuances of these traditions. Instead of waging war on what our cashier tells us at the register when we’re spending far too much money on stuff this season, let us consider our similarities.
Whether the lights are coming from the Advent candles, the Menorah, the yang period of the sun, the fire dancers celebrating the winter-born king, the seven-branched candelabrum or the Christmas tree, they are providing illumination in the midst of darkness, pointing us toward peace.
Whether we are celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Tohji-taisa or Kwanza, we all experience the early setting of the sun and try to provide a little light in the darkness. Instead of waging war, let’s wage peace. Instead of creating differences that divide us, let’s dwell in the darkness together, joining our myriad lights collectively.