The Suitcase Lady


December 23, 2014, 8:48 pm

For those of us riding on the top half of the planet, our annual trip back into the light has begun.

Every December for twenty-eight years I have been invited into schools and libraries to do my holiday program, Festivals of Light. Throughout these years, I have met thousands of children, parents and grandparents who come up to me after the program to share family stories and traditions. Their stories have given me more material than I can ever use in an hour long program, but I am always delighted to hear more.

Some feelings are universal, and lighting up the darkness is one of them. People all over the globe find reasons to light special lights when the days grow short and the nights long. Something in us needs to believe that at the end of the darkness there will be light.

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, begins the season. Small clay dishes called diyas or dipas are filled with oil and a wick. Hundreds of these tiny lights outline roofs, windowsills, paths and parks.

Go to New Mexico on Christmas Eve night, and the adobe houses resemble a Diwali display. But here the lights are candles and they are anchored in sand inside of paper bags. Northern New Mexicans call these little lanterns farolitos and the bonfires they light luminarios.

Some holiday lights are ancient; others are new. Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration of lights, dates back two millennia. Candles are lighted in a menorah for eight consecutive nights. In contrast, one man, Dr. Maulana Karenga, created a new tradition of lights for African Americans in 1966. Based on harvest celebrations in Africa, Kwaanza lasts for seven nights. On each night a candle is lighted in a kinara or candle holder and a different African cultural value is discussed. Kwaanza is not a religious holiday and is not meant to replace Christmas. This year an estimated eighteen million people will be lighting Kwaanza lights.

Many of us do a bizarre thing at holiday time:  we chop down a tree and haul it into our living rooms. The tree is covered with lights and shiny decorations to celebrate Christmas. Many of us light up the outside of our houses as well.

New Year celebrations are the finales to the holiday season and the skies are lighted. The Chinese New Year fireworks are legendary, but in many other cultures pyrotechnics welcome in the new year as well.

May we all light up our hearts with love, tolerance and peace. Happy holidays to all……and I choose these words purposefully….no matter what you are celebrating.


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