Festivals of Light

Around the world, there are many festivals that celebrate light as we head into the darker winter months. Here are a few that share some similarities but are different in their traditions and within their cultural contexts.

Diwali

A five-day celebration that includes good food, fireworks, colored sand, and special candles and lamps, Diwali is short for Deepavali, and literally translates to “rows of lamps”. It signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Celebrated in late fall (moving the date around Mid-October – Mid-November), it is associated with Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism and is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.

Hanukkah

The Jewish Festival of Lights remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This happened in the 160s BCE/BC. Observed for eight nights and days, it starts on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication. In fact, Hanukkah is the Jewish word for ‘dedication’.

To the left is a “hanukkia”, or Hanukkah candleholder, from our collection. It has receptacles for eight lights, one for each night. A ninth receptacle, called the servitor or shammash, is often included in the lamp as well. The hannukkia is used to perform central ritual of the eight-day Festival of Hannukah, the kindling of a lamp for each night.

Yi Peng Festival

Originating in the ancient Lanna kingdom that once ruled northern Thailand, this festival usually occurs in November in the town of Mae Jo. Thousand of lighted lanterns, called Khom Loi, are released into the sky. People make a wish a wish while releasing the lantern; the tradition is thought to carry away troubles and honor buddha.

St. Lucia Day

In this Scandinavian holiday commemorating Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr known for her service to the poor, the eldest daughter in a family dresses up as in a white robe and glowing candle-decked crown to serve her parents mulled wine and Lucia buns, a traditional sweet pastry. In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, Lucia is venerated in a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia.
Lucia-13.12.06.jpg
By Claudia Gründer – Claudia Gründer, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each whom hold a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucy’s life when she was sentenced to be burned. While entering the room, the women sing a song that describes the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness. Celebrated on December 13th, which was the winter solstice in the old Julian calendar and a pagan festival of lights, it’s also known as St. Lucy Day. A special baked bun, Lussekatt made with saffron is a very popular tradition, as well.

Mid-Autumn Festival

This harvest festival, also known by other names like the Moon Festival or the Moon Cake Festival, takes place in late September to mid-October throughout Asia. It is associated with the folklore tale of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e and involves the tradition of family gathering and moon gazing, and mooncakes. A notable part of celebrating the holiday is the carrying of brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, or floating sky lanterns. Another tradition involving lanterns is to write riddles on them and have other people try to guess the answers.

Try this paper craft project to make a mid-Autumn Festival lantern string with your kids.

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