I am a magnificent being.
The lamp of the body is thine eye. When thine eye is single, Thy whole body will be full of light. ~ Christianity
He who is conscious of his own light is content to be obscure – he shall be the whole world’s model. ~ Taoism
The Season of Light
As we begin December here in the northern hemisphere and move from days of less and less light to the start of the return to more light, we suggest this month as a celebration of light, a Season of Light.
Celebrating December as the Season makes this time of year meaningful and inclusive by connecting celebrations of cultures, the planetary cycle and the Divine. We share about the thread of light in wisdom teachings and scientific findings and some heartfelt celebrations in hopes it may be meaningful to you. We wish you LOVE and LAUGHTER this Season of Light.
Honoring Our Diversity
Many holidays celebrate light around December, around the world in both the northern and southern hemisphere. The seasonal landscapes people experience may be different, but light is the theme.
We live in a time when we seem to define ourselves more by our differences than by what we have in common. By recognizing that the thread of celebrating the light runs through the many celebrations, we can honor the diversity – and what we have in common. We can experience that we are one earth, one humanity, one spirit.
In his book “The power of Kindness,” Piero
Ferrucci writes that there are two worldviews: We can distance ourselves by suspicion, or we can draw nearer to people knowing we are linked to one another. We are not separate. One is a pessimistic view while the other is more optimistic.”
Here is a sample of the many winter traditions:
Bodhi Day: Buddhists celebrate December 8th as the day in which Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment.
This one defining moment would become the central foundation upon which Buddhism has been built upon for the last 2,500 years. It is a day on which followers can renew their dedication to Buddhism; reaffirm themselves to enlightenment, compassion, and kindness to other living creatures; and also understand the relevance of this religion as it applies to the modern world.
Bodhi Day can be celebrated in a number of different ways. Often, Buddhist homes will have a ficus religiousa tree that they decorate with beads and multi-colored lights – much in the same way that Christians decorate their Christmas trees. They will also put on reflective ornaments that represent the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Some people will spend the day meditating on the life of Buddha. Other people will visit stupas (shrines). In some homes, Buddhists will serve special cookies shaped like Bodhi trees or their heart-shaped leaves.
Hanukkah (Chanykah) or the Festival of Lights, is celebrated in Judaism around the world for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Kislev (late November or in December). It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple after Israel defeated the Greek Army and once again erected the temple. During the work, they found they had only enough oil for one day, but the meager oil supply burned for eight days, symbolizing god’s eternal goodness and blessing.
Each night of the eight-day festival an additional candle is lighted on the Menorah until all eight candles are lighted on the last night. Prayers are recited recalling the miracle of the lasting light. Gifts are often exchanged.
Kwanzaa is a week-long interfaith and intercultural festival celebrating the heritage and culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means “first” and signifies the first fruits of the harvest. It goes from December 26 to January 1.
In Africa, there are many customs that are common among the various ethnic groups found on the continent. One of these is the celebration of the harvest. At this time of the year, people of the community/village come together to celebrate and give thanks for their good fortune. Working towards a successful harvest is a communal effort, as is the celebration.
Here in America in 1966, Maulana Ron Karenga and the U.S. Organization adopted the basic principles of the harvest celebrations in Africa to create the observance of Kwanzaa. Karenga recognized that on the whole, African Americans do not live in an agricultural setting. Nonetheless, he sought to emphasize that the basic principles found in producing the harvest are vital to building and maintaining strong and wholesome communities. Kwanzaa is that time when people reflect on their use of the basic principles, share and enjoy the fruits of their labor, and recommit themselves to the collective achievement of a better life for our family, our community, and our people.
Symbols of Kwanzaa
The mkeka is a straw mat which symbolizes the tradition as the foundation on which all else rests. The kinara is a seven-space candle holder, representing the original stalk from which the African people originated.
The mishumaa saba (seven candles) stand for the Seven Principles. The muhindi are the ears of corn which represent the offspring (children) of the stalk (parents of the house). The zawadi (gifts) represent the fruits of the labor of the parents and the rewards of seeds sown by the children.
During the celebration of Kwanzaa, it is customary to greet friends and family with the Swahili phrase, “Habari gani”, meaning, “What is the news?” To respond, answer with the principle of the day. (Umoja, for example, is the response given on December 26th.)
Fasting, or abstaining from food, is often done during Kwanzaa, as a means of cleansing of the mind, soul, and spirit.
The Candle lighting Ceremony
The candle lighting ceremony, central to the celebration of Kwanzaa, takes place at a time when all members of the family are present. Children are encouraged to take an active role in all activities.
Mawlid al-Nabi, Muhammad’s birthday, is generally celebrated on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar. Mawlid al-Nabi in 2018 is on the 20th of November. Note that in the Muslim calendar, a holiday begins on the sunset of the previous day, so observing Muslims will celebrate Mawlid al-Nabi on the sunset of Monday, the 19th of November.
Although Mawlid al-Nabi is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. This difference means Mawlid al-Nabi moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. The date of Mawlid al-Nabi may also vary from country to country depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not.
Throughout the world, there are a variety of expressions for the observance of the birth of the Prophet: some celebrations take place simply in private homes; other Muslims decorate their local masjid with lights and hold large festive gatherings. Celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi include sharing food, attending lectures, participating in marches, and reading the Qur’an and devotional poetry. In some countries, such as Pakistan, the entire month of Rabi’ al-Awwal is observed as the Prophet’s “birth month.” In Singapore, the observance of Mawlid al-Nabi is a one-day festival which often includes special “birthday parties” for poor children and orphans in addition to the regular prayers and lectures in local masajid. Azhar Square in Cairo is the site of one of the largest celebrations, with over two million Muslims in attendance.
Pancha Ganapati is a modern, five-day Hindu celebration in late December from the 21st to 25th to honor Ganesha. Pancha Ganapati is a Hindu expression of the natural season of worship, gift giving and celebration.
Creating the Pancha Ganapati Shrine
Pancha Ganapati is a contemporary home observance. Because of the importance of this festival as a new beginning and mending of all mistakes of the past, a festive shrine is created especially for the five-day event in the main living room of the home. At the center of the shrine is placed a large wooden or bronze five-faced statue of Lord Pancha Ganapati. If this is not available, any large picture of Lord Ganesa will do. The home shrine is decorated in the spirit of this festive season. Lord Ganesa is often depicted as coming from the forest; therefore, pine boughs (or banana leaves) may be used. Durva grass, sugarcane and garlands of sweet modaka balls are used to decorate the home shrine. Flashing lights, tinsel and colorful hanging ornaments may also be added.
Pancha Ganapati is dressed anew each morning, preferably by the children, in a special color for that particular day. His five saktis are loved and adored by all members of the family. He appears in golden yellow on December 21. A regal gown of royal blue is presented to Him on December 22, and one of ruby red on the 23rd. On December 24 He appears in emerald, green, and on the final day He comes forth in brilliant orange to bless all who visit Him, bestowing 365 days of wealth and abundance.
Pancha Ganapati Activities
Pancha Ganapati is a joyous time for the family and should include outings, picnics, holiday feasts and exchange of cards and gifts with relatives, friends and business associates. Each day a traditional offering of sweets, fruits and incense is offered to Pancha Ganapati, often prepared and presented by the children. Each day gifts are given to the children, who place them unopened before Pancha Ganapati for his blessings, to be opened only on the fifth day. After each puja, the sweets are given to all from the offering tray as prasada. Gifts need not be extravagant or expensive…handmade presents are by far the most precious.
During each of the five days of Pancha Ganapati, chants, songs, hymns and bhajanas are sung in His praise. Each day a different family sadhana is focused upon to create a vibration of love and harmony
Shabe-Yalda is an interfaith holiday surrounding the sun’s rebirth and reclamation over darkness.
In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the start of the solar year has been marked to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and the renewal of the Sun. For instance, Egyptians, four thousand years ago celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year. They set the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month.
Fires would be burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of Ahriman. There would be feasts, acts of charity and a number of deities were honored and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of sun that was essential for the protection of winter crops.
Now in the evening of Shab-e Yalda bonfires are lit outside, while inside the home, family and friends gather in a night-long vigil around the korsi, a low, square table covered with a thick cloth overhanging on all sides. A brazier with hot coals is placed under the table. In the past, fruit and vegetables were only available in season and the host, usually the oldest in the family, would have carefully saved grapes, honeydew melons, watermelons, pears, oranges, tangerines, apples, and cucumbers. These were then enjoyed by everyone gathered around the korsi, or a fireplace.
On this night, the oldest member of the family says prayers, thanking God for previous year’s blessings, and prays for prosperity in the coming year. Then he cuts the melon, and the watermelon and gives everyone a share. The cutting symbolizes the removal of sickness and pain from the family. Snacks are passed around throughout the night: pomegranates with angelica powder (gol-par) and Ajil-e shab-e yalda, a combination of nuts and dried fruits, particularly pumpkin and watermelon seeds and raisins. This mixture of nuts literally means night-grazing; eating nuts is said to lead to prosperity in days to come. More substantial fare for the night’s feast includes eggplant stew with plain saffron-flavored rice, rice with chicken, thick yogurt, and halva (saffron and carrot brownies). The foods themselves symbolize the balance of the seasons: watermelons and yogurt are eaten as a remedy for the heat of the summer, since these fruits are considered cold, or sardi; and halva is eaten to overcome the cold temperatures of winter, since it is considered hot, or garmi. On into the night of festivities the family keeps the fires burning and the lights glowing to help the sun in its battle against darkness. They recite poetry and play music, tell jokes and stories, until the sun, triumphantly reappears in the morning.
Soyal is the winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and the Hopi (Hopitu Shinumu), The Peaceful Ones. It is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The main polla of the ritual is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year and is a time for purification. Paphos, prayer sticks, are made prior to the Soyal ceremony, to bless all the community, including their homes, animals, and plants. The sacred underground ritual chambers, called kivas, are ritually opened to mark the beginning of the Kachina season.
The Hopi Soyal Ceremony begins on the shortest day of the year and symbolizes the second phase of Creation at the Dawn of Life. Its prayers and rituals implement a plan of life for the coming year, ceremonially turning back the sun toward its summer path.
Kachinas Come Down from the Peaks to Establish Life Anew
The Hopi People, inhabitants of northern Arizona for over a thousand years, celebrate December as when the Kachinas come down from their home in the San Francisco Peaks to bring the sun back to the world. The Katsinam or Kachinas, spirits that guard over the Hopi, dance at the winter solstice Soyal Ceremony (Soyaluna or Soyalangwul), understood to mean “Establishing Life Anew for All the World.”
“Katsinam are Hopi spirit messengers who send prayers for rain, bountiful harvests and a prosperous, healthy life for humankind. They are our friends and visitors who bring gifts and food, as well as messages to teach appropriate behavior and the consequences of unacceptable behavior. Katsinam, of which there are over two hundred and fifty different types, represent various beings, from animals to clouds.” – Official Hopi Tribal Source
In preparation for the kachinas’ arrival, the Hopi make prayer sticks of tied feathers and pinyon needles called Pahos to bless the community, including their homes, animals and plants. Children are given replicas of the kachinas, intricately carved and dressed like the dancers, to help them learn about the hundreds of kachina spirits. Sixteen days before the winter solstice, one of the chief kachinas enters the Pueblo. He appears like a tired, old man who has just awakened from a deep slumber, teetering and on the verge of losing his balance. People follow his every move. He typically staggers over to the dance plaza where with great exaggeration, he dances and sings in a very low voice a song that is regarded as too sacred for the public to hear.
Sun Ceremony Symbolized By the Black Plumed Snake
The actual Soyal ceremonies are not general public knowledge. One informant describes a particular ceremony starting with a Hopi leader wearing a headdress decorated with images symbolizing rain clouds overseeing the main celebration taking place in the kiva. He will also carry a shield that has a star, antelope, and other symbolic objects. Someone will also carry an effigy of Palulukonuh, also called the Plumed Snake, carved from the woody stalk of an agave plant.
Shield bearers enter the kiva and take turns stomping on the sipapu (a shallow hole covered by a board that symbolizes the entrance to the underworld). Then they arrange themselves into two groups, on the north side, another in the south. Then they sing as the bearer of the sun shield rushes to one side, then the other. He is driven back by the shield bearers on both sides. The movements symbolize the attack of hostile powers on the sun (drought, fire, darkness, cold) that influence whether it will shine and bless the crops.
On the west all of the kiva, they construct an altar with two or more ears of corn contributed from each family, surrounded by husks and stalks. It also has a large gourd with an effigy of the Plumed Snake’s head sticking out, operated like a puppet, rising and made to roar. The shield bearers then throw a meal to the snake effigy, answered by more roaring noises. This persuades him not to swallow the sun, like he does in an eclipse. When the Sun God’s footprints appear in the sand, everyone knows he has been persuaded to return.
The entire ceremony ends with a public kachina dance. The Katsinam remain with the people for the first half of the Wheel of the Year until the summer solstice, when they return to their home in the mountains.
Imagine our distant ancestors, knowing they were dependent on the light of the sun for their physical survival, watching the days grow shorter and shorter. They built fires in an effort to call back the sun. Then at the solstice when the day light at least stopped getting less and, in a few days, begin to increase, they lighted fires to celebrate the return of the sun. They brought boughs of evergreens into their “homes” to symbolize ongoing life when all else was dormant.
Contemporary celebrations recognize the symbolic significance of the light within.
Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, so the early Christians thought that December 25 was the right time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They also took over some of the customs from the Winter Solstice and the Roman Saturnalia, celebrating the birth of the sun, and gave them Christian meanings, like Holly, Mistletoe and even Christmas Carols!
The festival of Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and conveys his message of love, tolerance and brotherhood. It is a celebration of humanity and mankind. … Though Christmas is a primary festival of the Christian calendar, it still has a special significance in everyone’s life.
The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature. Many customs are similar to ones in the UK, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Mexico.
The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favor turkey with trimmings, keilbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagna!
Some Americans use popcorn threaded on string to help decorate their Christmas Tree!
Many Americans, especially Christians, will go to Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Many churches have special Christmas Carol services and events where the story of Christmas is told.
Americans also send out Christmas Cards, like Carol singing!
People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowmen and Reindeer. Some cookies and a glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve!
Towns and cities often decorate the streets with lights to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the most famous Christmas streetlights in the USA are at the Rockefeller Center in New York where there is a huge Christmas Tree with a public ice-skating rink in front of it over Christmas and the New Year.
To expand your seasonal celebration, we suggest incorporating symbols and/or a ritual from one or more of the other celebrations of light in the different cultures and traditions.
We also suggest daily saying the Great Invocation
The Great Invocation is a world prayer. Its use invokes divine energies of light and love and spiritual power for all humanity. The beauty and the strength of this Invocation lie in its simplicity, and in its expression of certain central truths which all people, innately and normally, accept.
On World Invocation Day, 1952, Eleanor Roosevelt, a pioneering force in the passage of the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations, and wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, recorded a brief message which included the Great Invocation.
“We are living today in a troubled world. In many parts of the world people have a sense of discouragement as to whether they will ever solve their difficulties and it seems to me that those of us who feel that a spiritual leadership is necessary in the world are looking for ways in which to express what we feel. Someone sent me the other day an invocation, it’s called the Great Invocation, and it seems to me to express the aspirations held by many people throughout the world so I’m going to read it to you on this program.”
Adapted from writings of Alice Bailey
The Great Invocation
From the point of Light within the Mind of the Divine
Let light stream forth into the minds of all beings.
Let Light descend on Earth.
From the point of Love within the Heart of the Divine
Let love stream forth into the hearts of all beings.
From the center where the Will of the Divine is known
Let purpose guide the wills of all beings –
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the center which we call the human race
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.