Light Up the World

Photo by Sitha Vallabhaneni

Sophomore Gabi Ruderman said she is excited for the holiday season and the bright lights which usher in the various festivities associated with it. But while the majority of her of peers celebrate Christian holidays, Ruderman celebrates the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Despite many differences, festivals during the holiday season, like Hanukkah, place a huge emphasis on lights.
“I think it’s just the festive spirit, and (lights) also shows neighbors, if they look closely, that we’re celebrating (a) holiday, and the same applies for other holidays such as Christmas,” Ruderman said.
According to the National Retail Foundation, money invested towards holiday lights and decorations this year is expected to increase by approximately 3.6 percent from last year. Ruderman said light has been celebrated for centuries through Hanukkah.
“There was this civil war going on and this guy named Judah the Maccabee won this war. It involves oppression of the Jews, and it was a really significant victory for the Jewish people. There’s (also another) story that most people know regarding Hanukkah in which there was only enough oil to last a lamp that was supposed to always burn for only one day, and the oil lasted for eight days, until more could be found. So every night, we light our menorah, or ‘hanukkiah,’ as a family, and one more candle is added for each night. There’s a main ‘helper’ candle in the middle, and we use that candle to light the other ones. We also have (a) menorah which lights up when you screw in lightbulbs, and we place it in our windowsill,” Ruderman said.
Ruderman said there is a more symbolic meaning to the lights associated with Hanukkah.
Ruderman said, “(In) the story of the menorah, having this oil last for so much longer is portraying perseverance of the Jews of that time and also of this time and the fact that we still exist post-Holocaust, post-everyone that’s tried to kill us in history. We have this light in the front of every synagogue called the ‘Ner Tamid’ or ‘eternal flame,’ which is always burning, and that’s also connected to the menorah, where it’s all about (the concept of) lasting.”

Photo by Apurva Manas

Similarly, junior Olivia Shafer celebrates Christmas, with a heavy use of light.
Shafer said, “We use holiday lights because it’s very festive; Christmas is definitely a very happy time to celebrate. Our Christmas tree has ornaments we’ve collected since I was a baby and new ones that we get each year. Sometimes, (our tree has) sparkly lights, garlands, just anything that glitters. I think definitely the ornaments are a big thing. They represent all of our family traditions and all of our history. We’ll (put) ornaments we’ve collected from certain places, ornaments I made during preschool, and ornaments from all the holidays we’ve spent together.”
According to Shafer, light serves as a symbolic representation of God in all religions.
“I took art history, and one of the things we analyzed is light in works of art. Especially in early Christian works, light was a symbol of God and so I think that’s important in every religion, and we want to use as much light as possible to celebrate holidays in different religions,” she said.
However, Ruderman said many Jewish families fear discrimination about the celebration of Hanukkah.
“Given the number of religious-based hate crimes that we are hearing about, a lot of our Jewish community is debating whether or not they should put themselves out as ‘Jewish’ and keep the menorah on the windowsill this year because they fear the reaction of their neighbors,” she said.
However, according to Carmel mayor Jim Brainard, the city of Carmel is trying to celebrate all holidays and foster respect among people of different religions.
Brainard said via e-mail, “Almost all cultures have winter festivals of some sort – from the Roman festival of Saturnalia to Christmas, Diwali, Chinese New Year and others. The essence of the timing coincides with these being the shortest days of the year where darkness prevails more than light.”
In fact, the city of Carmel hosts Holiday on the Square yearly in order to celebrate all of these festivals by putting up various kinds of decorations.
Brainard said, “In a joint effort, the city of Carmel and the Carmel Arts Council started Holiday on the Square to provide a kick off the holiday season about 12 years ago. With the wonderful diversity shared throughout the Carmel community, Holiday on the Square offers entertainment from many different organizations and cultural experiences with vendors and atmosphere performers. Holiday on the Square is the official kick-off for the holiday season in Carmel.”
Shafer said, “Whenever I see lights and decorations, it makes me very comforted. It makes me really excited about the holidays, and I think it’s really pretty, especially with the snow. It’s really weird that sometimes even snow glitters. I think (lights and decorations) affect everything in the holiday season.”

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Adhi Ramkumar