I wrote this post in December 2016 when, unusually, Christmas and the Jewish winter festival of Chanukah exactly coincided. This year Chanukah was over in early December, but the rest of the content seems just as relevant today as it did two years ago. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and that it will be useful to you in the coming year, and that 2019 brings many forms of goodness and opportunities to contribute, to everyone.
Today, the final day of 2016, is both the seventh day of Christmas and the seventh day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah. The two festivals coincide only about every 30 years or so, when a combination of factors pushes the Jewish year – in which the months turn by the cycles of the moon – later into the Gregorian calendar than usual.
Chanukah always falls in the week with the longest, darkest nights of the year, straddling the new moon that falls close to the winter solstice. As with winter festivals marked by many traditions, it’s concerned with our capacity and responsibility to bring light to the dark.
And so, after starting with one candle last Saturday and adding a candle each night, people all over the world will tonight be lighting eight candles to mark the final night of Chanukah and, coincidentally, the final night of this calendar year.
As the rabbis who shaped Chanukah some 1600 years ago said, it’s our responsibility to gather light, to increase light, and to be light. It’s harder to see this in those times when the world itself seems shining with hope and possibility. But in the darker hours, when the sun is down and even the moon is obscured from view, we see the darkness itself more clearly. And we see how easy it is, when we’re gripped by fear or self-righteousness, to wittingly or unwittingly contribute to its spread.
As we end a calendar year that has seen an upsurge in the politics of division and fear, a new legitimacy given to voices – in Western democracies at least – of prejudice and rage and suspicion of the ‘other’, and the election in the US of a powerful, narcissistic leader with a fragile ego, let’s remember our human responsibility to increase the light around us and between us.
Let’s increase it with art and poetry.
Let’s bring light by being fierce advocates for reason, critical thinking, and science. By learning, ceaselessly. By feeling, fully and truly. By reading, widely. By overcoming our self-diminishment enough to say what’s called for.
Let’s bring light by giving up treating ourselves and others as objects, or commodities, or means-to-an-end. By opening to one another.
Let’s bring light by giving up using language as a way to cover up truth in our organisations, our institutions, our schools, our families. And let’s do it by giving up the cover of ‘it’s only business’, or ‘that’s just the way politics goes’, or ‘it’s my truth’ as a way to gain power over others or to silence them.
Let’s bring light by finding out how to be ones around whom others’ hearts soar, around whom others can find out what’s uniquely theirs to bring and then bring it without shame, or self-reproach.
Let’s do it with song.
Let’s bring light by getting over our self-pity, our resentment, our sense of how unfair it is that our lives are whatever way they are.
Let’s bring light by learning how to listen to, and speak with, ever wider circles of people who have lives, commitments, and beliefs very different to our own. And by standing for kindness, and dignity, being a force for the elevation of life rather than the diminishment of it.
Let’s bring light by dedicating ourselves to projects and commitments that are bigger than our own comfort, and bigger than our own personal gain.
Let’s remember that we can only do this hard and necessary work by being committed to our ongoing development. And that we can be at our most wise and compassionate only when we do all this with the help of one another.