There are other holidays besides Christmas when candles and lights are used in diverse ways as THASC artist Celia Casper suggests in her painting. For example, they are also used during the Jewish Festival of Lights, which also usually falls in winter. This festival is called Hanukkah, which lasts for eight days when a candle is lit each night in a special candelabra called a “menorah.” The ninth candleholder, or “shamesh” (meaning: helper), placed above or below the others, is used to light them all each day. The lights should burn at least one half hour after dark after being blessed the first night.
Another modern winter festival called “Kwanzaa” uses seven candles (called the mishumaa) placed in a special candleholder called a “kinara.” Kwanzaa’s seven candles represent the Seven Principles. During the weeklong festival of Kwanzaa the candles which are placed on the kinara are: three red on the left, three green on the right and a single black candle in the center. These are the symbolic colors of the holiday. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.
The custom of placing lighted candles in the windows at Christmas came to America with the Irish in the early nineteeth century and spread throughout the country. Even now electric candles and lights are seen in homes and in places of business. The custom of the Christmas candle still maintains its original pattern in a few countries. For example, in Ireland the mother or father of the family lights a large candle on Christmas Eve while the family prays for their loved ones, both the living and the dead. The Ukrainians do not use candlesticks, but stick the large candle in a loaf of bread called “kolach.”
In Austria, Switzerland and Bavaria, Christmas fires are burned at the summits of the Alps. The farmers carry lanterns down the mountains into the valley for Midnight Mass at the parish church with each lantern shining and glowing on Christmas Eve. In England, the tradition of the “Yule Log” has survived in many homes in which a huge log was specially selected to burn both during Holy Night and Christmas Day.
In the States, candles are connected to Christmas when placed in windows, stemming back to the symbolic gesture of providing shelter for travelers, as is reflected in the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph not finding shelter on the night of the birth of Jesus.
Whatever holiday lights you will be celebrating this year and whatever their origins, THASC artist Celia Casper has provided a diverse depiction in her painting “HOLIDAY LIGHTS,” which shows us that we all do have a common bond when it comes to celebrating the holidays, whether it be candles, fire, bread or wood.
Wishing you all continued happiness and rejoicing during this wonderful season.
I’ll be back on Thursday with another great THASC artist.
See you then.