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Celebrating the festivals of light

Celebrating the festivals of light

FOR THE REGISTER

In Genesis 6:16, God tells Noah to make a window in the Ark.

Is that about the Christmas season? Yes. I'll explain a little later.

In last week's poll, 53 percent of our readers said that on Christmas they celebrate the birth of Jesus. Verily D'Preacher added a point of emphasis in the online discussion. He said: "Annually, on December 25th, Christians celebrate the BIRTH, (focus now) NOT "THE BIRTH-DATE", nor the actual "BirthDAY" of the Messiah. No date is given or implied in the Bible as the actual 'historical' date of the birth of the Messiah."

But 15 percent of the readers who voted directly disagreed. They said they celebrate Christmas as the actual anniversary of the birth of Jesus. The church at Rome officially observed the "birthday of Christ" on Dec. 25 for the first time in the year 336. That's been the Roman Catholic belief ever since.

Another 15 percent of readers opted for Option 5: I celebrate with friends, with family or by myself but without significant religious or spiritual content. I suspect however, that this, describes a great many Americans.

One version of this was portrayed by the Register's Letters Editor Betty Talbert, in her blog of Dec. 18. She said: "I am an agnostic. I do not practice any religion. However I love the Christmas season. I have a tree. I spend days decorating. I entertain friends and family. I love the energy, symbolism and celebration of my Scandinavian heritage.

"And, yes, I say, 'Merry Christmas.' For my Christmas Eve party, I invite Jews, Muslims, atheists and Christians. They are my friends. We celebrate a season by getting together and enjoying our diversity and friendship."

Many Muslim Americans see Dec. 25 as a time to celebrate their American identity, joining a host of other non-Christians who celebrate the day.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Christmas tradition in the Traband household: "A plate of cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. A stocking full of treats for Omar, the family dog. A noble fir decorated with golden garland and keepsake ornaments.

But there is no angel atop the tree. Sahira Traband feels that would conflict with her family's faith. They are Muslims.

"The magic of Christmas is the part we celebrate," said Traband, 45. "We didn't get into the whole religious thing."

Six percent of our readers voted for Option 6: None of the above describes my Christmas. Annemarie Clark said "I don't cook on Christmas. It's my day off."

Five percent of those who voted chose Option 1: We should discontinue Christmas as a legal holiday. However, they didn't tell us if they were opposed to having a holiday with a religious name or if they thought the religious holiday would be more serious without the holiday status.

Finally, two percent of our readers chose Option 4: On Christmas, I celebrate my spiritual rebirth. I know that voters in a simple poll like this have to choose the best option for them. I expect that many more are celebrating their spiritual birth but thought a different option was a better fit.

Let's get back to Genesis 6-16. In the Hebrew text, God literally tells Noah to illuminate the ark. To make a window is a reasonable interpretation. The Hebrew word for ark is "teva." In ancient Jewish writings, the word teva also means the written word. Thus, the Jewish mystical tradition understands that Genesis 6:16 is an instruction to shine light on the written word. And this commandment is followed by essentially every religion in the world at this time of year.

Christians celebrate Christmas with trees, candles, and home decorations. Jews celebrate Chanukah with an 8 branch candelabrum and now with parties, feasting, and singing. Zoroastrians observe the birth of the sun by lighting fires and feasting with friends. Hindus celebrate Diwali with lights and food, and both atheists and agnostics decorate trees, light candles and go to parties. Millions of African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa with its own set of seven candles.

The commonality of the observance is obvious. It is also obvious that the environment is permeated with a sense of peace on earth and good will to each other. The vehicle for this is the light of the candles and the decorations. Perhaps this is the illumination referred to in Genesis 6:16. We hope that in the year to come we can keep the spirit of all these celebrations, and have their light penetrate our lives. Can we make this illumination overcome the differences in which text we read and how we understand and lead us to closer to the source of the light? I pray that the lights of each of our observations combine to enlighten our lives and our practices for all of 2012.


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