During this Holiday Season, as we approach the new millennium,Winter Solstice and the year's longest night, every major religion and culture will be celebrating their version of the Festival of Lights and a move toward a more global community. Perhaps some historic individual looked up into the dark sky and saw the stars twinkling through the trees and associated "Christ the Light" to the featival of lights and Christmas was born. However, this season truly is interfaith. Both ancient and modern, traditional and new paradigm celebrate the Winter Solstice Season and make predictions about the new millennium.
HINDUISM celebrates their Festival of Lights on November 7th. Diwali (Deepavali) is perhaps the most popular of all Hindu festivals. It is dedicated to the Goddess Kall in Bengal and to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, in the rest of India. Diwali is associated with one of the stories about the destruction of evil by Vishnu in one of his many manifestations.
Starting on November 7th, JAINISM celebrates the "Festival of Lamps," popularly known as Dipavali. A burning lamp symbolized the "Light of Knowledge," which dispels the darkness of delusion and ignorance. November 12th, the day of knowledge, is a time to celebrate Jnana, the divine knowledge of wisdom. December 18th is Maunajiyards, the day of fasting, silence and meditation. This day is also the celebration of the birth of many Pathfinders.
In JUDAISM, December 4-11 is the celebration of Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. It is celebrated for eight days to commemorate the victory of Judah the Maccabee for religious freedom.
WICCA celebrates December 21st as Yule, which marks the new year in the Anglo-Saxon and northern traditions of Wicca. It is the celebration of the birth of God as the Winter-born King, symbolized by the rebirth of the life-generating and life-sustaining sun. Winter solstice is the beginning of longer nights getting shorter.
In SHINTO December 22nd is the Grand Ceremony of the Solstice celebrating the joy of the ending of the yin period of the sun.
BUDDHISM teaches enlightenment rather than celebrating a particular day or festival.
December 25th is Christ-Mass or the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, in CHRISTIANITY. Christmas is given more importance in western Chritianity than Eastern.
ZOROASTRIANISM celebrates December 26th, the anniversary of the death of Prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) the founder of their faith. The Greeks date him at ca. 6000 B.C.E. Western scholars place him in the second or even first millennium B.C.E. Some of his Gathas (hymns) are preserved in the Zoroastrian scriptures.
December 26-January 1st KWANZAA is celebrated by many North Americans of West African decent in recognition of their African heritage. The candles of a seven-branched candelabrium represent different attributes. It is interesting to note that all of these religions are north of the equator where long dark nights and cold winter comes at the end of our calendar year. This is the warmest season for the southern hemisphere where there are no winter solstice celebrations.
The United Religions Initiative (www.united-religions.org) is an interfaith project bringing all of the earth's religions into a common representation, like the United Nations.
All around us we are seeing the evidence that traditional religious separatism is giving way to spiritual inclusivity and cooperation. The Koinonia House, Portland Campus Christian Ministry at 633 SW Montgomery (PSU Campus) has expanded beyond its traditional eight Christian denominations to include Mahasiddha Buddhist, Pnai Or (Jewish), Chinese Christian, Sihk Community Gurudwara, Muslim Educational Trust, Christian Lesbians Out (Clout), the Society for Values in Higher Education and the Center for the Study of Religion. Many wonderful interfaith groups use this centrally located facility (503-226-7807). Also, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) has given its blessing and support to interfaith activities outside its traditional Christian base (503-221-3054) by participating in various Earthday events and earth friendly activities.
For the past several years Earth & Spirit Council has sponsored an Earthday Interfaith Celebration. Last year they involved schools and churches in the All Species Procession in downtown Portland at Pioneer Square. Linda Neale, director, can be reached at 503-452-4483 for more interfaith information. The 1998 Earthday Interfaith Celebration attracted 800 people and participation from a large cross section of spiritual organizations.
Other traditional groups are moving toward interfaith. Marylhurst University, although traditionally Catholic, is now offering a certificate program in Interfaith Pastorial and Spiritual Care. The Interfaith Spiritual Center offers mentors from various world religious traditions. They are located in the Rectory of the Sacred Heart Parish at 3910 SE 11th (503-233-2026).