The season of lights

The season of lights is upon us – from Macau to Taipei, Lyon, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Berlin, Bangkok, Niagara Falls – the countries are not the only ones to chase away the darkness with a festival of lights!

Most light festivals cluster around the winter solstice, when the sun slooowly starts to stay with us a little longer each day. (I once calculated it at about 6 minutes’ difference per day, which explains why I don’t really believe it until mid-February!) But the festivals’ primary association is with the new year, and new years have many places in the calendar, so there are festivals of light from (our) fall all the way to spring.

Here is a compilation of some of those beautiful, moving festivals of light.

One of my favourites, which as a child I encountered in a UNESCO book about international holidays, is the mid-December festival of Saint Lucy that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, hope overcoming despair, and the renewal of life.

The accompanying illustration, which I remember in detail across more than six decades, was of a solemn young girl dressed in white and walking very, very carefully with a circlet of lit candles on her head to light her way.

In the story, she was bringing food to desperate people, and put the candles on her head so that both her hands would be free to carry as much food as possible to them.

The implication, if you’ve never carried a bare candle, is that hot wax dripped onto her head, burning her – and that that mattered far less to her than bringing more food.

I’ve named her a saint, which makes her obviously a figure from Christianity, but equally obviously it’s a universal allegory with multiple meanings.

Such presents – the respect of being present to others – are not the only action a society needs, but they are one of the essential acts.

The covid years saw a wonderful outpouring of solidarity among Canadians. But although the pandemic appears to be waning, we are getting no respite: now, rises in interest rates and rents and inflation are stealing food from people’s mouths.

If you’ve ever gone hungry for days, you’ll know – your concentration is scattered, your patience is short, your energy is low; you’re simply unable to do your best. Children who go hungry don’t learn well; adults who go hungry don’t work well; creatives who go hungry don’t dream well.

Given the challenges facing humanity today, we Canadians need us all to be at the top of our game.

We’ll need to be patient with each other, smart, effective, and creative.

My wish for 2023 is that we all share nourishment – whether food or something less material – with those around us; that, even at the cost of some burns, we use our lights to make hope overcome despair.

Fill someone’s table this holiday season by donating to Building Roots


Photo credits (both through Wikipedia)

First (photo) – Holger Motzkau 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

Second (art) – Card, public domain; artist Adèle Söderberg (1880-1915) (cropped)

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