December is a busy month for celebrating. Just this past week we encountered the Winter Solstice, the official start of that cold weather season in the Northern Hemisphere, but a day important to those ancient tribes we now call pagan, who honored it as the indicator for the rebirth of the sun. The previous week people of the Hebrew faith observed their own Festival of Lights we know as Hanukkah. In a few days most of us will celebrate Christmas for either its religious attribution for the Christ child’s birth or its cultural role in having a wonderfully good time with family and friends. And then there is Kwanzaa, a late arrival to our holiday mix, but an important addition to our need to celebrate. It is the time of the year chosen to honor the many cultural contributions of the Pan-African community.
No matter your ethnicity, politics, educational achievements or social status there should be something in at least one of these four events that can spark a festive sensibility of even a brief duration. The traits they share touch on positive aspects of the human experience and for a time allow even the most jaded of us to glimpse a transcendent spirit that sees in the mundane a miraculous consequence. Life takes on the appearance of meaning, which gives virtue a logical place in our hierarchy of self-awareness.
The presence of light is a key theme in these December observances. The Hebrew menorah, the African kinara, the yule log and lights on an evergreen tree all impart warmth in the hearts of their respective adherents without overwhelming them with an oppressive brilliance. In fact the opposite is true. The subtle softness of the light from a lamp, a candle, a light bulb or the embers of a slowly burning piece of wood possess their own mysterious quality of assurance of human dignity and righteous purpose.
Food projects bounty in the same way song imparts harmony. Color abounds in the decorations, place settings, and seasonal clothing, while gift giving becomes a reciprocal response of the beauty within us answering the call of the external beauty displayed in these disparate celebrations.
If this be true, then perhaps we can put an end to the imagined conflict between seasonal blessings. Merry Christmas does not have a mandate for presiding as the only December compliment. Therefore, it is best to know another’s beliefs and preferences in order to express in their preferred idioms the blessings of the event they celebrate even when we do not share this precious aspect of their worldview. It indicates the depth of our care for them as friends, colleagues or acquaintances as we demonstrate our respect for their cultural practices by greeting them or imparting a blessing in the appropriate manner. Of course Happy Holidays will remain the safe fallback statement when another person is essentially an unknown entity to us. But don’t despair. There is always time to learn about the people we associate with and December affords us the best opportunity to do so. It is called hospitality and can be practiced in whatever location you call home.
May your days, then, be very merry and bright. And may you have a peaceful and prosperous New Year.