Let the Light of the World Shine: The Meaning of Light during the Holiday Season 

During the holiday season, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are the three main celebratory events. Each holiday has different backgrounds, beliefs, and traditions that people throughout the world honor. While the three celebrations have their own meanings and festivals, there is something they all have in common: the importance of light.

Holiday lights are all around us. We see them in the forms of tree lights, garlands, candles, stars, menorahs, Kinaras, and many other illuminating objects. Light is very meaningful and important for all three religious and cultural holidays. The meanings date back to the beginnings of the celebrations. The symbol of light overcoming darkness is powerful and represents the hope that many people have. Finding the similarities between the symbol of light in Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Hanukkah is easier than you think.


To Christians, Jesus Christ is the light of the world. He is the source of all of the light and stands to remind us to be that light to others around us. It is a reminder of hope, joy, and good in the world. Because of that, the brightness of tree lights, candles, and others throughout the Christmas season represent Jesus Christ. In addition, these illuminations are symbols for the Star of Bethlehem that appeared at Christ’s birth and guided the three wisemen. Lastly, during Christmas, lights are significant for being known for the path to salvation through Jesus Christ.


Also, known as the Festival of Lights, one of the most well-known features of Hanukkah is the menorah. According to author and rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, light is the central and foundational understanding for Judaism. “Light is the overarching, central, and definitive metaphor for Jewish understanding of all of reality,” Rabbi Apisdorf stated in his book Chanukah: Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul. Holding nine candles, the menorah symbolizes the light of God. After the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, there was only enough olive oil left to light the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. However, that oil burned for eight days. Now, those eight days are represented by the eight of the nine candles on the menorah. The ninth candle, the shamash light, is used to create flames for the other candles. Together, the light of the nine candles honor the miracle that occurred many years ago. Each night, during Hanukkah, a candle is lit, while prayers and songs are recited.


A cultural holiday, Kwanzaa’s traditions are similar to Hanukkah in the aspect that Kwanzaa also has a candle holder, the kinara. For Kwanzaa, light represents family, community, and culture. In addition, light symbolizes the sun’s powers and the African belief that all life comes from the sun’s rays. The kinara holds seven candles, one for each principle of Kwanzaa: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Within the kinara, black, red, and green candles stand and are lit. One black candle for the African people, three red candles for their struggles, and three green candles represent hope for the future. There is also a proper order for lighting the candles to add to their special meaning. Many people first start with lighting the black candles then move left to right when facing the kinara. This symbolizes struggle than hope that comes from the struggle. The candles are lit daily throughout the seven days of Kwanzaa.

The importance of light in Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa all stand for hope, unity, and the power of believing. In addition, light shining bright during the holiday season is also connected to the winter solstice, when the seasons change and the shortest day and longest night of the year occur.

No matter what time of the year, the meaning of light is still the same. Rays shining bright help guide people in many different ways and offer them a sense of protection and comfort, just like they do during the seasons of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. As the lyrics to the song “This Little Light of Mine” goes, light will always shine throughout the world. “Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.”


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