Saturday, 20 December 2008


SAbookworm would like to wish all its readers a happy and peaceful festive season. Four major spiritual and religious festivals take place within the next week, the Midsummer Solstice, Yule, the Jewish festival of Hannukah and Christmas.
The Midsummer Solstice will be celebrated in the southern hempisphere tomorrow, being the longest day of the year, and Yule will be celebrated in the northern hemisphere, where it is mid-winter. These two major solar festivals were central to the pre-Christian calendar, and are still widely celebrated by Druids, Wiccans, Pantheists and other contemporary nature traditions, both spiritual and secular.
The Solstice festival begins at sunset on Midsummer's Eve, and usually includes torch-lit processions, bonfires and the exchange of small, symbolic gifts. It is customary to stay up all night on this auspicious occasion, and then to greet the rising sun to honour nature's glory and majesty. This is also the time of year when abundance and fertility are celebrated, and many couples choose this day for their weddings or handfasting ceremonies. White candles and summer wreaths are used as part of the celebrations to symbolise purity and plenty.
Readers in the north will, of course, be celebrating Yule instead. Generally regarded as the most important day of the solar year, it is revered as the time when the wheel of the year turns from darkness back towards light. Unlike the Midsummer Solstice, it's a time of contemplation, and is usually celebrated quietly with a family and friends.
This year, Hannukah coincides with these ancient festivals, and will also be celebrated tomorrow. It is celebrated over a period of eight days from the 25th day of Kislev, the third month in the Jewish calendar, which usually corresponds to some time during the first three weeks of December in the Gregorian calendar. Also known as The Festival of Lights, it commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalemin 165 BCE, after it had been desecrated by Hellenistic invaders.
Festivities include lighting candles every night in a Hanukkah menorah, singing special songs such as Ma'oz Tzur, reciting the Hallel prayer, eating festive meals that include foods such as latkes and sufganiyot, and giving gifts of Hanukkah gelt.
Then, as most South Africans will know, this is the time of the year when those of the Christian faith celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as the gift of life. Christmas Day (25 December) is a highlight on the Christian calendar, and is marked by masses and services in both Catholic and Protestant churches. The tradition of giving gifts derives from the pre-Christian Yule tradition, and the day is celebrated with abundant meals.
We're especially privileged in this country to have religious freedom entrenched in our Constitution, and I take great pride in the fact that there's a Methodist Church, an Anglican Church, a Mosque, a Catholic Church, a Synagogue, a Buddhist centre, an active Shembe community, a sangoma, and a practicing Wiccan group all within five kilometres of my house. This, I feel, shows the true meaning of peace and goodwill - the fact that people of such widely varying beliefs can live together without religious conflict. We're really all one, after all.
Wishing you all peace and goodwill - during the festive season and always.

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