The Christmas season was a festive time; it is every year. Colorful lights brighten souls. Christmas trees and excited children call up the nostalgia of Christmas past -- memories from the days when we ran in pajamas to the presents under the tree. At this same holiday time, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, remembering when the temple in Jerusalem was rededicated. A candle was needed to burn for each of eight nights, but there was enough oil for only one night. Miraculously, the candle burned for all eight nights.
In 2016, the eight days of Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, will include Christmas Day. Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday actually, but it seems to have received a boost from the nearby Christmas celebrations. Stories of Jewish religious history sit on the altar of most every Christian church. While there is not an Islamic holiday this season, Islam shares Jesus as a prophet who will return when the world ends.
In my neighborhood the community reserves a night each year called “Luminaries.” It’s a night when everyone turns off their outside house lights. White bags, weighted with sand and a candle, line the curb in front of each home. Through the years I have asked my neighbors what this event means -- what is the symbolism? I’ve received different answers from several people, ranging from, “The candles light up the way for the Christ child,” to “Nothing, it’s just a festive, beautiful tradition.” It seems solemn, not festive, to me.
A Christian feel to the evening rests in the back of most everyone’s mind no matter what they say the night means. Jewish neighbors are reluctant to participate, but many accommodate the community by allowing others to place the bags with lighted candles in front of their homes. Though we have Islamic and Hindu neighbors, I am not familiar with their attitudes toward the candled street. I think most everyone sees it as a community affair, and it is good to see the community come together at least once a year. But the problem still lurks beneath it all -- why are we coming together? What does it symbolize? The night needs a meaning, and its meaning needs to include everyone in the neighborhood so we have true “community.”
It’s a night, in the middle of a brightly colored, festive time of year. But, during this night, exterior lights on homes are switched off. There is a still in the dark, except for the soft, comforting glow from candled bags along the streets -- streets we all share.
The night, freed from the distractions of the usual harried celebrations, offers a time of reflection, not only about the meaning Christmas, but the meaning of all our religious holidays throughout the year. These lessons are often obscured, even lost, amidst the joy of the holiday. But, there is no holiday, no real holiday without the reason for the holiday.
Atheists among us might see the evening as a reflection on the value of community. Thus, they are freed from religious interpretation and can feel comfortable and welcome to share in the neighborly event.
This night we come together as a community, from property to property, lit bags join and provide a continuity of light; together we create a subtle atmosphere of oneness as neighbors show their mutual respect for the various faiths we find here.
From these reflections and lessons of the holidays, we remember to appreciate this community we share. The religious and the nonreligious can smile at all that promotes peace and good will among neighbors.
Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.