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Season of Light

By Pamela Gerloff

Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
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Throughout the world, people celebrate with light.
The season of light

Everywhere in the world, there is light. The sun rises over the mountains, the sea, tall city buildings, and the darkest forests on Earth. At night, the moon shines. Stars twinkle. And each new day, the sun comes up again. 

All over the world, people behold the light. And in many traditions, light is said to come from God, and God comes in the form of light. So it’s not surprising that many religious and cultural festivals celebrate with light. 

Here are a few that are celebrated in late fall and early winter, when days are short and people long for more light. 


People of different religions celebrate Kwanzaa, an African American holiday started in the United States in 1966. 

It celebrates African heritage—including family, community, and culture—and comes from African traditions of giving thanks for the first fruits of the harvest. (Kwanzaa means “first fruits” in Swahili.) The holiday lasts seven days, starting on December 26 and ending on New Year’s Day. 

To celebrate, a family gathers each night to light a candle on the kinara. The kinara’s seven candles represent the seven spiritual principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. People light the candles to bring light and life to these spiritual principles.

Advent and Christmas

Advent starts four weeks before Christmas. It’s a time when Christians prepare for the coming of Christ. (Advent means “coming” in Latin.) 

To celebrate, people set four candles in a wreath of evergreens and light one new candle each week until Christmas. As each new candle is lit, more light is given off, symbolizing the light of God coming into the world. On Christmas Day, a fifth candle is often lit in the center of the wreath. This signifies the birth of Christ, who has arrived after a long period of waiting and preparation. 

People celebrate Christmas with light in other ways, too. They light festive candles and hang  strings of lights on Christmas trees and around their homes.


Every year, in late November or December, Jewish people celebrate the rededication of their Temple in Jerusalem. 

About 2,000 years ago, the Temple was taken over by Syrian armies. But a small group of Jews recaptured it and rededicated it in a ceremony of purification. For the ceremony, people used olive oil to light the Temple lamp, the menorah. The menorah was supposed to stay burning constantly. But the group of Jews didn’t have enough oil to keep it burning very long. 

Even so, on the first day of the ceremony, the Jews lit the menorah. Then a miracle happened: the menorah kept burning for eight days. Every Hanukkah, Jewish people remember this miracle by lighting the menorah—one candle for each day that the oil kept burning.

Loy Krathong

In November in Thailand, people celebrate the festival Loy Krathong, which takes place during a full moon at the end of the rainy season. It was originally a time to give thanks to the goddess of water for providing enough water for an abundant harvest. People would make little boats out of banana leaves and float them down the river. (Loy Krathong means “floating banana leaf.”) 

People now make these small boats out of flowers, leaves, wood, paper, and even plastic. They place a candle inside each boat, then make a wish and sail the boats down a river. The boats are an offering of light, to remove obstacles and bad luck. It is said that if your candle stays lit until your boat goes out of sight, you will have good fortune for the year.

From Highlights magazine