Celebrating Our Light-filled Holidays Together
Our December this year was filled with light!
First, we were surrounded by family and friends. We welcomed my twin brother from Ohio for a week of holiday festivities; last December his trip was aborted due to his inconvenient contraction of COVID. Our younger son and his wife also came down from Seattle. My older son and his fiancé joined us from Oakland for 3 days of festivities ending in a delightful movie night at their townhome. We even hosted a gathering of friends at our home to meet our family – a small holiday party of 20 spread out over 3 hours. Safely done and so meaningful after the relative isolation of these past two years.
A special spirit surrounded us with the intertwining of Hanukkah and Christmas this year. Each of the eight nights of Hanukkah found us lighting the menorah. The first night we were with sons and partners and their local friends in Oakland. Our own small holiday party took place Christmas Eve, the seventh night, and our friends and family took turns lighting the seven candles and we sang the Hanukkah blessings together. The eighth and final night of Hanukkah was Christmas Day, and our family lit the 8 candles in the menorah and again sang the blessings. We offered the special shehecheyanu prayer several times during the eight days of Hanukkah, thanking God for enabling us all to reach these joyous occasions. With COVID still around us this blessing called forth a particularly strong sense of gratitude this year. And our 8-foot Noble Fir Christmas tree twinkled along with its white lights and eclectic decorations gathered by our family over many years.
The lights of this season make the darkness less scary. My own favorite holiday is Epiphany, on January 6, the twelfth night of Christmas. This holiday celebrates the visit of the wise men from the East to the infant Jesus and his parents at the stable. They are guided by a star and go on a long journey of faith to find the prince of peace, and give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The story is found in Matthew 2:1-12. I love the fact that this holiday has no secular appropriation; it is quiet and principally known by the starlight guiding the seekers to the sign of the Incarnation, God among us.
This year we started a new tradition for our family. We gathered together to share our favorite or most meaningful charitable contributions. Each of us took some time to offer our charities and why they are important to us. We learned things about each other and our special causes of the heart. This hour in our Christmas Day was one of the most meaningful of our holiday traditions.
Our first Interfaith Bridges program started in November, and the group of 24 Christians, Jews and Muslims have completed three of the six sessions. I was thrilled when our Muslim friends shared their own reverence for Jesus and celebration of Christmas, and their respect for the Hanukkah celebrations. Here is a message from one of our Muslim facilitators to the group:
We wish you "the wonder of this Christmas, the joy of God’s abundant blessings, and the peace of Jesus’ presence be with you always". We are sending our sincere Happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish brothers & sisters. May these special nights be a time of love, wisdom, light, & peace for you & all your loved ones. Chag Chanukah Sameach.
I would like to also share some chapters told in the Qur’an:
Jesus’s birth is a miracle (Surah Maryam (Mary)-19:16-35).
Jesus is born under a tree (Surah Maryam( Mary)-19:25).
The Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother, is chosen “above the women of the worlds” (Surah Al 'Imran - 3:42).
Say, [O believers], "We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him. (Surah Baqarah - 2:136)
May these times connect with each other & bring peace on Earth.
We have so much in common with our dear friends in our three Abrahamic faiths! It is so wonderful to think of our communities celebrating during this month. A recent post from a friend of mine offered the perspective of Eboo Patel, founder and President of Interfaith America, about his experience as a Muslim celebrating Christmas in a fascinating article. We thank all those who have offered gracious greetings of peace during these holidays.
One of the participants of the current Interfaith Bridges™ group texted me after the first session and commented
What a great way to herald peace, love and understanding in our community and in the world. Thank you so much for creating [the Interfaith Bridges program]. I hope and pray that it spreads throughout the country. So important. You have both done holy work with this creation.
We are humbled and excited by this endorsement of our curriculum. You can support our work in 2023 as we expand our offering of the Interfaith Bridges program to faith communities across the United States. Just visit our website and click on the “donate” button to see the options, if you are interested.
I wish you a happy New Year filled with grace and blessings of peace.