Lights have always served to illuminate darkness, provide beauty and joy, and are at the heart of numerous ceremonies. Lights and candles are frequently used during the holiday season, which includes Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. These special occasions symbolize celebration and hope. 

Hanukkah, known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah usually begins sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration is the menorah, a candelabra that holds nine candles. The light of the menorah represents many ideals including:

  • the goodness in the story of Genesis as God separated light and darkness on the first day of creation 
  • the light that guided Jewish people throughout history, including many dark times
  • a reminder of the miracles of daily life, including life itself

In Christianity, the Christmas tree is symbolic of the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tree’s branches and shrubs are viewed as an emblem of immortality and are said to symbolize the crown-of-thorns worn by Jesus on the cross. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it. Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, is said to have added lights to the tree. Commercially speaking, the outdoor lights help guide Santa Claus to the homes of children awaiting his toy delivery!

Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration held in the United States that honors heritage in African-American culture. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26th to January 1st, and culminates in gift-giving and a big feast.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, chairman of Africana Studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966. It was in response to the 1965 Watts Riots and was an effort to bring African-Americans together as a community. Candles used in this celebration are placed in a candleholder called a kinara. Each day a candle is lit and a different principle is discussed. The seven principles represent the values of African culture that help build and reinforce community. They are:

  • Unity (Umoja)
  • Self-Determination (Kujichagulia)
  • Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima)
  • Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa)
  • Purpose (Nia)
  • Creativity (Kuumba)
  • Faith (Imani)

Whether or not you celebrate these holidays, you can illuminate your life and others by performing simple acts such as:

  • smiling and sharing laughter
  • saying hello to someone 
  • calling an old friend
  • watching funny movies that make you laugh aloud
  • learning to make a craft…then giving it away
  • saying a prayer or giving a compliment to someone 
  • having a treat or meal delivered to someone who is shut-in 
  • looking at old pictures that bring you joy
  • writing a letter or note…to yourself or a friend
  • participating in a community service project
  • reading or doing a hobby
  • taking a day off the computer and other screens
  • eating non-traditional meals like pizza or seafood
  • sharing your personal gift with others

Some years the holiday season is extremely overwhelming! By focusing on the symbolism of the candles in the menorah and kinara, and the lights on the Christmas tree, we can create light in this season no matter what our current life situation might be. The flames and lights are reminders that there is always hope for change!

All Our Best Now and Always

Frances Goddard, LCDW, BCD
Diane Harvey, LCSW