By Rev. Amari Magdalena
This is a resurrection of an old piece that I wrote when I lived in Albuquerque New Mexico in the early 90’s. It is chocked full of great information about celebrations at this time of year. I’d highly recommend that you make a copy of this and keep it near your calendar as each celebration commences in the last month of 2017. Perhaps you will be drawn to one particular ceremony or possibly you will want to embrace them all in a glow of candles. Years ago I had candle holders for each celebration and honored all.
It began in total darkness. The abandoned old automobile showroom came alive with twinkling lights. Rainbow streamers pirouetted down from once obtrusive columns. Music, art, dance, food, and children’s merriment lit up the Winter Solstice night as reminders of the covenant of light so woven into each of our individual cultures. Dancing snowflakes stuck to the windows completing the picture of magic. And, we knew that after this long night the light would again return–slowly, ever so slowly. Gentiles and Jews, Buddhists and Blacks, Latino and Pueblo observed this Celebration of the South marking the deepest darkness of cosmic obscurity. It was an event of culturally diverse people sharing their own unique light celebration in concert with one another. We brought presents for the tree of life to gift back into the community. Our celebration unfolded as a fitting tribute for a Mass celebrating the birth of our solar Sun.
Each person lit a candle as the ceremony progressed to bring back the light and end the cycle of entropy. In the four cardinal directions we acclaimed the seasons and their lessons. We began in the East where at Spring Equinox we launched the masculine cycle of the year and gave thanks for genesis. In the South we recalled the blessings of full sun, the warmth and passion of the season of expansion. The West was lauded for the feminine cycle and harvest of Mother Earth’s munificence. And finally, the North was extolled for the emergence from the inner cave of introspection and the ensuing inner awakening.
The month of December holds many traditions of Light. Through Winter Solstice or Yule, Hanukkah, Christmas –Traditional and Eastern Orthodox, Twelve Holy Days Candle Ceremony and Kwanzaa we shed light on the challenges of the old year and free ourselves for the wealth of opportunities that the new year proffers. In each culture and tradition, light is the key to illumination and the freedom it brings.
Hanukkah-December 12 to 20, 2017
This Festival of Lights is celebrated for eight days beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (November/December) to memorialize the victory of Jews over Hellenistic Syrians. A nine-candelabra called a Menorah meaning “fire” is lit to acknowledge the light of religious, national, and cultural freedom won by the Maccabees for their people. The triumph of the Maccabees fueled a resurrection of Judaism, which had waned under Hellinism. A server candle the Shamash is lit first and used to ignite the flame of each of the eight nights with chanting and blessings. The miracle of lamp oil used to light the rededication of the Temple is at the root of the eight-night commemoration. Judah Maccabee found uncovered a small container of oil sufficient to light the lamps for one night only. Through Divine intervention the oil lasted steadfastly through eight nights until new oil was obtained.
Winter Solstice-December 21, 2017
Celebrated in many cultures worldwide for thousands of years, the Winter Solstice marks the start of the solar year as a celebration of Light and rebirth of the Sun. Norse tradition called it Yule (Wheel). In Japan Goddess Amaterasu emerged from her dark cave (hibernation), saw her reflection in a mirror and then lit the world with refracted love from her image. Celts rejoiced with Sun Goddess Lucina. Yemaya an African Goddess created the world anew from her womb at Solstice. Ancient Roman’s festival of Saturnalia lasted as much as a week with rituals, feasts, merry-making, prayers for the crops and ceremonial/social activities. Druids adorned their homes with sacred herbs and holiday colors of red, green and white. Mistletoe above the threshold acted as a charm for good luck throughout the coming year. Sacred candles were lit, and new fires kindled to symbolize the returning light. Turning the Wheel of The Year back toward the sun helped cultures through time before mind connect with cycles of Earth and understand our reciprocal needs.
Christmas or The Mass of the Christos-December 25, 2017
Literally Christmas means the mass of Christ—a ritual ceremony. Unable to compete with the boisterous Pagan celebrations, early Christians in the second and third centuries moved the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to its December 25th date. The Christian celebration of the Sun of God was more easily assimilated by cultures who for eons ceremonied the annual return of the Sun. Thus, son as Light of the World became synonymous with the solar sun. Questions over the validity of lunar calendars resulted in solar calendars dating back to ancient Egypt. In 45 BC Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar with 365 days and a leap year every fourth year. In 1582 the Gregorian Calendar was developed which parallels our modern constructs of time. Political dissention within the Catholic church created a liturgical difference that left Roman Catholics adhering to the December 25th Christmas day and Eastern Orthodox believers celebrating it a full 12 days later. Christmas was thus celebrated as a time to pay homage for the gift of Light, literal and figurative.
Kwanzaa-December 26, 2017-January 1, 2017
A modern Black American celebration developed following the 1965-Watts riots in Los Angeles, Kwanzaa was conceived by Dr. Maulana Karenga to help African-Americans reconnect with their heritage. The holiday is celebrated for seven days from December 26th to January 1st. Each day focuses on one of seven goals or Nguzo Saba (the seven principles of Kwanzaa). The Nguzo Saba are:
Unity (Umoja) – Black Candle
Self-Determination (Kujichagulia) – Green Candle
Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) – Green Candle
Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) – Green Candle
Purpose (Nia) – Red Candle
Creativity (Huumba) – Red Candle
Faith (Imani) – Red Candle
The words are Swahili, the most commonly shared language in Africa. A Kinara (kee-nah-rah) much like the Jewish menorah holds one candle for each day of Kwanzaa. The black candle is lit first with the remaining six on each of the following days. A ritual feast called the Karamu is the highlight of the holiday on the sixth day. The altar features a straw mat called a Mkeka (m-kay-cah) where traditional items are placed for a sense of foundation. Muhindi (Moo-heen-dee), ears of corn, symbolize the children and the ability of offspring to produce thus immortalizing a nation and culture. The Kikombe Cha Umoja (kee-coam-bay chah-oo-moe-jah) is the cup of unity in honor of ancestors. The Zawadi (sah-wah-dee) or gifts represent the fruits of the parents and the rewards of their seeds sown in their children. The focus of Kwanzaa is to relate to the past in order to understand the present and deal with the future. The purpose is to maintain history. The sense of direction is to practice principles the assisted ancestors with life’s challenges. And the goal of Kwanzaa is to develop positive Black self-esteem as a culturally desirable pattern of principles.
12 Holy Days Candle Ceremony-December 26, 2017-January 6, 2018 (All Kings Day in Mexico-Eastern Orthodox Christmas)
Following is a synthesized celebration of the 12 Holy Days Candle Ceremony. This can be undertaken following traditional Christmas or twelve days before the New Year. You will need candles of the following colors: 12 White (Purity); 6 Pink (Love); 6 Yellow (Creation); 5 Blue (Communication; 3 Purple (Divinity); 2 Green (Wealth); and 2 Red (Passion for Life)—36 candles in all. This traditionally had a Saint associated with each day. To make it more universally usable, I made some changes.
Day One -Begin with the zodiacal sign of Aries and light one each white, pink and yellow candle signifying new beginnings and creation. Spiritual Center: Crown
Day Two – Celebrate home and hearth as Taurus. Light one each white, yellow and purple candle to create love, harmony and humility within your dwelling. Spiritual Center: Throat.
Day Three – Visual Gemini with hands of healing, peace and understanding by lighting one each white, pink, and green candle. Spiritual Center: Hands
Day Four – Focus on transformation and soul as truth by acknowledging Cancer and light one each white, blue, and pink candle. Spiritual Center: Solar Plexus.
Day Five – Behold the power of love and the benefit of releasing old sorrows to embrace new joys as Leo. Light one each white, pink, and purple candle. Spiritual Center: Heart
Day Six – See the Virgin Virgo as symbol of purification (Jesus’ purported birth sign). Light one each white, purple, and green candle. Focus on service. Spiritual Center: Intestinal Tract
Day Seven – See beauty in all things expressing Divine attributes as Libra—balancer. Light white, yellow, and blue candles. Spiritual Center: Adrenals
Day Eight – Transmute matter, honor the life and death cycles and express compassion as Scorpio. Light white, yellow, and pink candles and purify your heart. Spiritual Center: Reproductive Generative System.
Day Nine – Become the light of the world as Sagittarius and focus on the mastery of Intent—your life work. Light white, yellow, and red candles. Spiritual Center: Solar Plexus
Day Ten – Humble yourself, surrender to access the Christos consciousness within. Light white, yellow, and blue candles to signify Capricorn. Spiritual Center: Knees.
Day Eleven – Embrace the Universe in the perfection with a broad love of humanity expressed in Aquarius. Spiritual Center: Lower limbs
Day Twelve – See yourself as a piece of God spirit or the oneness as human form Divine manifest through Pisces and declare the “I Am” within and without. Walk you talk (i.e. peace walk of The Peace Pilgrim) Spiritual Center: Feet
December brings ceremonial warmth and light to all corners of the world. As each person in his or her own way marks the return of light, life is renewed. Through ceremonies of light we complete the old and embrace the new–making the home and hearth more festive, lighting the lights, gifting from the heart, and gathering with our circle of friends and family. In the twinkling of the candles or fires are afforded an opportunity to see our own unique spark of divinity and to commit to moving forward into the New Year 2018 with passion, compassion, and love!
Amari is co-sponsoring a Solstice Celebration on Wednesday, December 20th at the Majestic in Bellingham. For information visit the Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/events/169502160304518/