On December 21st, the Winter Solstice, millions of Jews and their non-Jewish friends who just like to play with fire, will light the first candle of Hanukah.
Besides the fact that people and spell-checkers all around the world argue on what is the correct spelling of Hanukah, the holiday represents the christening of light, and the birth of a new cycle of light.
This year, Hanukah, Jewish version of the Holiday of Light, will begin December 21st, right on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the day we encounter the least amount of light. It is a very auspicious synchronicity that Hanukah, the celebration of light, begins at the sunset of the darkest day of the year. From December 21st for the next eight days, Jews around the globe will light one more candle each day, thus helping light vanquish darkness. It is a ritual of light, a ceremony that is designed to put us at one with the heavenly cycles. It can be viewed as sympathetic magic – by lighting the candles we bring light, love and happiness into our life. The rabbis instruct us to place the candles in the windows so that everyone can see the light growing every night. So the question is: why do we celebrate Hanukah – the Holiday of Light at the darkest time of the year? Is the origin of Hanukah historical or psychological?
Some people call Hanukah the Jewish Christmas. They are both right and wrong. It is true that Hanukah usually falls very close to Christmas and that they are both celebrations of Light. They are both created to help us deal with the darkest time of the year and therefore have their origins in the pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice. If you ask an orthodox Jew or a traditional Christian they will negate any connection between the two holidays and assert that these festivities have nothing to do with astrology. They will argue that Hanukah is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Jews over the Greek almost 2200 years ago and that Christmas is the day Christ was supposedly born. But we all know the gospel: It Ain’t Necessarily So….
I personally think myths should be myths and should never be confused with history. Myths unlike history are not written by the winners but by the wise. I am not familiar with any archeological or historical studies that can prove that indeed Jesus was born in Christmas or that the Menorah in the temple was kept alight miraculously for eight days. But unlike historian or religious fundamentalists, I don’t care if these events are myths or historical accounts. And with me stand proudly an army of children from all over the world who will demand their gifts for Hanukah and Christmas regardless of their historical validity or lack of. To explain my point here is an excerpt from my book:
Cosmic Navigator – Design Your Destiny with Astrology and Kabbalah
The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, is the day we encounter the least amount of light. The winter solstice has proven to be rather traumatic for many cultures in the Northern Hemisphere. As we progress toward the winter solstice, the days are stripped of their light. Everything becomes dark and gloomy. Early stargazers and shamans recognized this phenomenon and its deleterious effect on human mood and behavior. For example, in pre-Columbian Mexico, some cultures sacrificed people in a macabre effort to appease the sun god. They speculated that the sun, which slowly diminished around winter solstice, demanded the blood of human sacrifice in order to grow strong again. Contemporary psychologists have dubbed the winter blues S.A.D., which stands for seasonal affective disorder. They recognized that humans, animals, and plants react to the changing seasons, a conclusion that astrologers from all over the world have been aware of for thousands of years. The symptoms of S.A.D. include oversleeping, a need for a nap in the afternoon (as in, a siesta), a craving for carbohydrates that contribute to weight gain, grouchiness, melancholy, and antisocial behavior. Bears have found a practical solution to winter depression. They just go to sleep. Psychologists devised a different remedy. They expose the patient to light. They call it light therapy.
All over the world, wise elders, storytellers, religious teachers, and astrologers lit upon another solution. I am sure that you and your family have already practiced this same preventive medicine many times before. It’s called the holiday season, or to be more specific, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Saturnalia, and Yule, just to name a few. Our astute ancestors, like modern day psychologists, could not help but notice that people’s moods sour as the days grow shorter. Versed in the practical applications of the ancient alchemical axiom of “as above, so below,” they figured that as the light slowly disappeared above, people’s energy levels declined correspondingly below. In order to enliven their communities, these ancients decided to concoct holiday festivities to crown the winter solstice with special significance. During the darkest time of the year, they created the holidays of light. You can call holidays the real light therapy. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, was created to counter the growth of darkness both outside and in. During this holiday, Jews from all over the world spend eight days lighting candles. Hanukkah evokes a kind of sympathetic magic designed to abet the growth of light. We light eight candles (eight is the symbol of infinity), and once we reach eight candles on the eighth day, it seem as if the light has achieved a critical mass that will enable it to shine thereafter on its own.
The Celts similarly ignited bonfires on the mountaintops during Yule for this same purpose: to beckon light into a darkening world. During Christmas, we drape the treetops in sparkling lights. When you visit any mall or city center around Christmas, you will see light therapy in action. The shops and front yards sparkle with so much light that you barely notice the burgeoning darkness of the night. More recently, humankind has invented another technique to fight the winter blues. It’s called shopping therapy, but its efficacy is short lived. Shopping’s invigorating boost usually lasts until the first credit-card statement arrives in January. Shopping therapy derives loosely from Kabbalistic spiritual principles, but I have to say that in the last two centuries it has spun a little out of control. Kabbalah works on the principle of giving and receiving, and in the times of darkness we are encouraged to generate love and happiness by giving and receiving gifts. We bring a green tree (the Tree of Life) into our living room and surround it with presents. Jewish tradition calls on us to give chocolate golden coins (called Hanukkah gelt) to children.
The chocolate, of course, contains enough sugar to make the kids high enough to forget the dreariness of winter.
The winter solstice heralds the darkest day of the year. But it also heralds a marvel.
Another big question relating to Hanukah and Christmas:
What do Jesus Christ; Apollo and his lovely twin, Artemis; Marduk (the Mesopotamian Jupiter); Cernnunos (the horned Gallic god); Mithras (the Babylonian sun god); Baal (the Canaanite god); Bel (the Celtic sun god); Balder (the Norse god); Attis (the Phrygian savior); and Horus (the Egyptian sun god) all have in common?
They were all born on the same day. Their birthdays land on the winter solstice, which means they are Capricorns. (Jesus Christ, as we noted in the chapter on Aries, is a Capricorn by proxy).
This shared birthday teaches us a profound spiritual truth: in the moment of bleakest darkness and despair, when all seems lost, our higher self, the spark of god and goddess within us, is born. When we hit rock bottom, our savior—our genuine divine nature—comes to the rescue.
Astrology views the longest night of the year as the great womb of the Mother Goddess, who gives birth on that day to the god of Light. Spanish uses the phrase dar luz, which means “to give light,” to describe any birth. In the wake of this astrological birth, the womb of the goddess—code for the all-encompassing darkness of the night—begins to contract. Like the night from this day forward, it shrinks smaller and smaller, while the baby called Light expands and grows. The winter solstice, according to esoteric astrology, therefore equals the gateway of the gods…
This year, regardless if you have a decorated Tree that shines bright light, or an eight candlestick beaming with hope, take time to consider the astrological roots of these Holidays and how you can bring forth Light in the darkest time of the year not only for yourself but to everyone around, both friends and foes.