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Now Come the Winter Holidays

In every faith, we look ahead in hope

On American’s feast day, Thanksgiving, we look back at “the great and various favors” of our year. I hope you were inspired in your recollection and naming of your blessings this Thanksgiving Day by George Washington’s apt words, quoted in last week’s Letter.
    Now we rush full of anticipation into the winter holidays.
    These great holidays rise from separate faiths, but all share a common theme. Each turns us toward the future.
    Advent — marked on special calendars in many a family — begins November 29 with anticipation building in the day-by-day countdown to Christmas.
    The Jewish eight-day festival of Chanukah, beginning December 6 this year, celebrates a victory of the faith and the surprising longevity of the light, which burned in the restored temple in Jerusalem for eight days when there was only oil enough for one.
    The Winter Solstice, December 22, marks the victory of the sun, which strikes a balance with darkness, then climbs again to ascendancy after six waning months.
    Christmas, December 25, celebrates the birth of a baby who was both man and God, bringing the light of hope to humankind. Even secular Christmas, presided over by Santa Claus, promises the magical fulfillment of all our hopes in a shower of gifts.
    New Year’s, which belongs to us all, tells us we get another chance.
    No wonder we love these holidays!
    Each of our seasonal rituals brings us back to the wellspring of hope, a visitation as old as human memory can stretch. Shopping for gifts, which begins in earnest Black Friday, we’re following the example of Saint Nicholas … of the Magi who followed the Star of Bethlehem to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus … and even deeper in history, the sacrifices made to sun gods to reverse the dying of the light.
    Cutting the Christmas tree and gathering greens, we dip deep into many other ancient cultures, bringing evergreen life into our homes at the nadir of the cycle of cold and darkness. Holly’s red berries not only brighten the season; to Christians they recall the blood of the dying Jesus staining his crown of thorns. Mistletoe is magical in many cultures and gives permission for love.
    Stringing the lights, lighting menorahs, decking our halls with lights, green and glitter: All defy the darkness.
    Our hopes spill out onto our lawns in Christmas cribs, Santa, elves and flocking reindeer.
    Baking warms our homes and sweetens the season.
    Arguments about whether our greetings should be Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays do wrong to this season of celebration. So intermingled are our traditions and united our hope that we are all in this together.
    Menorahs, bonfires or Christmas stars, our lights shine on our neighbors and theirs on us. Together, we of many faiths transform the dead of winter into a winter wonderland.
    I hope you’ll nurture the spirit of the season in your heart, home and community.

  1. Sandra Olivetti Martin

Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com