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Making Sense of Life

Are you ready for the holidays?

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By Dr. Terry Drew Kaaren

Once again, we approach the end of the year. Once again, we remark, “I can’t believe it’s the end of the year!” Why? It’s not like we don’t know the order of the months, or how many months are on the calendar.

As we age the years seem to become shorter. To a six-year-old one year is 16 percent of her entire life. But to the sixty-year-old, one year is a not even two percent. It’s all about perception.

The winter holidays ahead will be joyous and merry for some. For others, however, it may bring up divisions and conflict. But if we understand that these holidays are all based on the same reason we can have a better concept of how “Happy Holidays” isn’t an attack on “Merry Christmas, or “Happy Hanukkah, later which, by the way, in Hebrew is “Chag Sameach!” It simply means, “Happy Holiday.” Kind of ironic when you think about it. Here’s what we’re really celebrating.

The Season of Light

The winter holiday (“holiday” originally meant “Holy Day”) season, is a Season of Lights. As our part of the earth moves toward the shorter days and longer nights we find ourselves immersed in a wide variety of celebrations from various cultures, religions, and philosophies — all based on Light. From the oldest of the holy days, Yule, to the newest one, Kwanzaa, light plays a significant role.

Yule is one of four minor observances in a group of eight holidays known in the Old Religion as sabbats, or Days of Power. Yule coincides with the Winter Solstice. At this time of the year we have the least daylight. This same period also marks the time when the days start a six-month period of lengthening, culminating with the Summer Solstice. In 273 C.E. the Church designated December 25 as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. This coincided with the Roman gift-giving holiday of Saturnalia and Yule. It is a time of new hope, new beginnings, new life, and a new light.

Kwanzaa or Kwanza, is a secular seven-day festival in celebration of the African heritage of African Americans which begins on December 26. It was developed in the U.S. by Maulana Karenga and first observed in 1966. Kwanzaa is based in part on traditional African harvest festivals but particularly emphasizes the role of the family and community in African-American culture. Each day is dedicated to a principle (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith), and on each day one of the candles on a seven-branched candelabrum is lighted. The celebration also includes the giving of gifts and a karamu, or African feast.

Another type of candelabrum will be lit in Jewish households all over the globe. Chanukah (Hanukkah) is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev (or this year on Sunday, December 2 after sundown) and commemorates the victory in 165 B.C.E. of the Maccabees over Antiochus Epiphanes and the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem. Also called Feast of Dedication or Feast of Lights, it recalls the story of how God kept the lamps of this small band of freedom fighters lit for a full eight days until they could gain victory over their oppressors. Even though they only had enough oil for one day, God rewarded their faith by multiplying their small supply many times over.

Finally, there’s Christmas! We celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth on December 25, though it’s generally accepted among Biblical scholars that Jesus was more likely born around the beginning of October, probably October 4 or 5. Regardless of the ongoing debate about the commercialism of Christmas and the need to put “Christ back in Christmas,” it is, nonetheless, another celebration of light. As the “Light of the World,” the message of Jesus is as clear today as it was nearly 2,000 years ago:  Love, Acceptance, and Truth.

Opening our minds and hearts to the beliefs of others helps create unity. My wish for you at this time of the year is to be in love. I’m not talking necessarily about being in love with someone in particular, though if you are that’s absolutely wonderful. What I’m talking about is being in the state of love. Of being in love, seeing love as a state of mind, an ongoing experience, a presence. To be in love, to connect with the Divine Essence of who we truly are and with everyone around us is the ultimate expression of the holidays. May you experience joy this season and a prosperous new year!

Terry is an author, speaker, licensed social worker and flight attendant. He is also the director of Spirit, Mind and Body Foundation (spiritmindbodyfoundation.org).