Can you recall any holiday season so brightened by so many lights in so many venues and events?
You may have read Hitesh Pate’s November article on these pages about the Diwali Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists across the world and among residents of Eden Prairie. The article describes the five-day festival symbolizing the spiritual victory of light over darkness.
Then, as November turns the corner to December, Christians begin lighting the first of four candles on their Advent wreath, accompanied by scripture readings and prayers in preparation for the coming of Christmas.
Wreaths in homes and Churches become brighter and brighter week by week. Finally, the larger ornate Christ Candle in the center is lighted as dawn breaks on Christmas morning around the earth.
In the same time period, Jewish families light eight Hanukkah candles at the setting of the sun on eight days using a ninth candle, called the shamash meaning helper or servant, to add the flame to each candle one by one, not in a circular wreath but in a Menorah or candelabra.
Readings recount the miraculous story of the temple lights continuously burning brightly for the reading of scripture and prayers for eight days after the temple was restored to the Hebrews. This year Hanukkah is celebrated December 10th to 18th.
The Twelve Days of Christmas from December 25th to Epiphany Day on January 6th prompted artists throughout the ages to capture light images in paintings from glowing halos over the Christ child in a stable manger to the Glory of God shining heavenly light over shepherds in Judean hills near Bethlehem.
Then comes the Epiphany’s light that manifests or spreads the good news to the far reaches of the world. It’s the Star of Bethlehem that leads wise astrologists from distant lands after as much as two years have passed!
2020 Saturn and Jupiter celestial convergence: Star of Bethlehem
With wonder I have listened to Dr. Karlis Kaufmanis, Astronomy Professor at Gustavus Adolphus College and later at the University of Minnesota. Kaufmanis has presented his Star of Bethlehem lecture several times over the years. The rare reoccurrence of a celestial phenomenon – Jupiter and Saturn visible and nearly overlapping – is occurring in the southwest section of the night sky.
Scholars place the birth of Jesus in 4 BC and the arrival of wisemen as much as two years later. Scientists have determined that Saturn and Jupiter are in conjunction every 20 years, but it has been 800 years since they were this close in December. Jupiter was aligned with Venus and another rare bright star over Bethlehem around 2 BC.
But ours will now be an amazing opportunity on Monday, December 21 when glorious light will be on display for us!
The Lights of Eden Prairie and metro area
I cannot recall a year when the holiday season was more brightly lighted than now in 2020! Light shows to drive-by, drive-through or walk-through are everywhere, from Valley Fair to the Minnesota State Fair; from the Minnesota Zoo to the University of Minnesota Arboretum; from a giant tree in Rockefeller Plaza to Peavey Plaza; from a 36 foot Menorah in Manhattan to Prairie Lights synchronized to FM 88.1 in our own town, there is light! Churches and houses (the Eden Prairie Holiday Lights Map), parks and malls from Sever’s Holiday Lights to Duluth’s Bentleyville lights are shining and Holidazzle has become weekly dazzle on social media!
Finally, to give context, December 21st is also the Winter Solstice when night is the deepest and longest darkness and day is 6 hours and 51 minutes shorter than it was June 21st, the Summer Solstice. In this time of uncertainty, sickness, division and fear we can curse the darkness or testify to the light.
Thankfully, lighting one candle pierces the deepest darkness!