The shortest days of the year are here, the time of darkness. But when there’s darkness there’s almost always a little light. And walking around my city this December, I see the lights, shining out like little rays of joy and hope. Call them Christmas lights or Hanukkah lights or whatever you like, they all have the same message — life goes on irrepressibly in this long, cold night.
It’s a symbol you see all over the world: lighting up the night is a tradition in countries far and wide. And it’s not just about the lights decorating the Christmas tree. In Sweden, the Christmas celebrations feature the Queen of Light, wearing a crown of candles. And in Greece, they string lights from the rigging of special miniature boats.
In some places, the light comes from real fire — like the special candles that mark the eight nights of Hanukkah. In Spain, people jump over Christmas fires to ensure good health in the new year. And down in Louisiana, they light huge bonfires on the levees and gather around them for their Yuletide parties.
Many of these traditions have to do with Christmas. But the tradition goes back long before Christ; all over the northern world, lighting up the night has been a profound symbol of enduring life in the dark time of the year. Think of the yule log, burning away in the hearth through the centuries.
And so this week I walked over to Toronto’s city hall once again, to see the skaters carving circles around the great rink under the lighted arches — and of course, the huge Christmas tree, ablaze with lights. Nowadays there’s a little added light, too, with the illuminated TORONTO sign casting its changing colours on the scene.
It was a sight that kindled a little warmth in my northern heart, even though the night was freezing cold. And I hope it does the same for you. Wherever you are, I wish you a very merry Christmas, or whatever holiday you observe, and a happy New Year. And a little light in the darkness.