December is the darkest month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The slide into darkness starts every year on June 22. Every day those in the northern hemisphere lose light, an imperceptible degree at first but ever-increasing daily. The increasing darkness continues until December 21. Realizing this, I find it interesting that December has the most cultural celebrations of light. Maybe it is because the prevalence of darkness makes the desire for light even more pronounced. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. This recognition and the celebrations of light in December extend back to human history's earliest and deepest corners. Here are a few of these celebrations of light (even though some may be a little before December.)
Diwali: a Hindu festival of lights, held from October to November. It is particularly associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and marks the beginning of India's fiscal year. In a great article called, Celebrate Diwali, Vasudha Narayanan; Deborah Heiligman (2008) have the following quote, which I love. "All the stories associated with Deepavali (Diwali), however, speak of the joy connected with the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil." There are also post Diwali celebrations of Karthikaj Deepam and Kartick Poornima, which are post-Diwali celebrations that take place later into December.
Tazaungdaing Festival: held on the Full moon day of Tazaungmon (usually mid to late November.) This Buddhist celebration has cultural variations, but its focus is on charitable giving. Based on the story of Buddha's mother, in heaven, spending the entire night weaving new robes for him. Traditionally part of the festival is the lighting of hot air balloons, illuminating the night, and fireworks.
Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights): during the dedication of the Second Temple, priests found that they only had enough oil for one night. Due to a miracle, the oil lasted for eight days. Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25 of Kislev on the Jewish calendar; it can fall anywhere from mid-November to late-December. The occasion is commemorated by using nine candles in a menorah (the central candle to light the other 8) to remember the eight miraculous nights. There are games and gifts associated with the eight nights of the festival.
Christmas: is the most widely celebrated and second most important holiday in the Christian calendar. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who bears the title of "The Light of the World." The celebration is rife with light in the form of tree and house lights, stars, candles, and yule logs. The actual birth of Jesus was most likely in the spring. The early church grasped the symbolism of a world at the peak of darkness on December 21 into the 22, followed by three death-like days of darkness. On the night from December 24 into the 25, The Light begins to increase every day bring life to the world
Caught in the grasp of cold darkness, humans have always looked for the return of the light. Hope and life are sought for perennially in the returning light and warmth. No wonder it is so globally recognized. Since we are now in this cryptic seasonal darkness, let's focus forward to the increasing light in the days ahead. Whatever your belief system, find your way to celebrate the rebirth and return of light going into the New Year.