'Tis the season. Of what, depends on your beliefs. For christians, approximately 1/3 of the world's citizens, Jesus' birth is "the reason for the season," and some will crisply provide "Merry Christmas" as a correction to "Happy Holidays" as greeting for those of us who aim to be a bit more inclusive. About 14 million jews celebrate Hanukkah during December, lighting a candle a day for eight days as part of the Festival of Light, celebrating with "joy and honour" that God brought them salvation. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th, and for the next seven days reminds its adherents to focus on strengthening family, community, and culture, in other words to bring more light into the world, through applying its seven principles.
For secular appreciators of nature's cycles, the winter solstice falls just before Christmas and marks the date when the light of day and the dark of night are equal. From that day forward, days will progressively get longer for the coming six months, auguring the eventual return of spring. For still others, the holiday season (which seems to begin earlier and earlier every year) is felt to be just a forced and shallow focus on the material, including an excess of gift-giving and money spent. For these folks, "light" refers to how their wallets feel after they finish buying gifts for Aunt Rachel, Uncle Lou, and everybody else.
For me, it's one of my favorite times of year. Yes, the holidays can be seen as a coercion or mandate to be cheerful, generous, social, and any number of things we truly may not feel. It's no accident that holidays also bring spikes in mental health challenges; more people die (my own grandfather passed away in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning with no apparent health issues beyond a broken heart from losing my grandmother six months previously), and more people are triggered by being without (or with!) loved ones during the holidays. But I continue to feel there is a larger force at work, an opportunity for a sacred acknowledgement of, well, light in the world, both the literal and the metaphorical.
I think it's easier for me. As someone who identifies as interfaith, I see God in all Its forms as spectacular and meaningful, worthy of notice. I happily bask in the glow of others' rituals of celebration, and appreciate the moments of communal upliftment. Anything that helps people focus, however briefly, on the higher energies at work--love, peace, joy, compassion, sharing, family, community--is A okay with me. Then, if you throw into the mix holiday lights, songs, decorations, celebrations, pecan pie, and a kinder, gentler way of being with others, I am totally down. The day before Christmas I was talking with my friend Rick, who is homeless and hangs out in front of my neighborhood Starbucks. He said that people had given him close to $500 and untold gift cards, sandwiches, coffees, etc in the previous week. Of course we can ask why people aren't so generous all the time, and some will criticize Rick for his way of acquiring wealth. To me, I'd rather focus on the gifts the holiday season brings--not the white elephants we'll receive, but the opportunity to tune into those things that bring us into closer connection with what matters, and to respond from (dare I say it?) a more light-filled space inside ourselves.