In 1947, the year I was born, a Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”
Many have interpreted his meaning, but most of us are not happy when the sun goes down at 4:30 in the afternoon. It gets to me to want supper at 4:00 and feel we should go to bed at 8:00. Our primitive bodies still object to electric lights and feel the need to close the cave with a big rock, set the cooking fire to low embers, and sleep until sunrise the next day. Most monuments built by our ancient ancestors have to do with the relationship of the sun, especially during the winter. The dying of the light, it gets to us. So, what have we done about it besides push big rocks around and stack them?
Well, glad you asked. In late fall, the Hindus have a five-day festival called Diwali. It honors a goddess of prosperity named Lakshmi, and for the event they light candles in little saucers put on water. They celebrate good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. As a former teacher, this concept works for me. Indian houses are decorated with colorful flowers and banners. Sweet treats are made and consumed, and visiting your relatives for a meal is part of it.
Speaking of light, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah will be here the evening of December 10 until the evening of December 18. It is to celebrate Judah and the Maccabees who won a war against the Greeks and Syrians. When the Jews went to rededicate the temple, there was only enough oil to burn for one night. Then a miracle happened, and it burned eight days. So children light the Menorah, which holds nine candles. The tallest one is called Shamash and is used to light one candle for each of the other eight days. Toys and gelt, gold wrapped chocolate coins, are given each night while a dreidel, or square top, is spun to earn more gelt. Family traditions light up the nights with great joy. Recently a new character, the Mensch on a Bench, is the story of Moshe, who was in the temple to watch over the light when everyone else slept. Authors Neal Hoffman and Rob Foster wrote about a person of integrity and honor: Moshe was a Mensch to be reckoned with. I am sure this is a cousin to the Elf on the Shelf. Look him up.
When we came from Iowa to New Mexico, we had never seen Las Posadas, a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey searching for shelter, using the “farolitos” or “luminarias” to light the way, depending on which part of New Mexico you are in. It is a sacred event that takes place December 16 to December 24, one day for every month Mary was pregnant. Las Posadas have been a tradition here for 400 years. The community follows Joseph and Mary as they try to seek shelter on their trip to Bethlehem, walking from house to house. Each night they are turned away until the last night. The community follows the couple to get in touch with the holiness of the season by bringing the Christ, the “Light of the World.” People decorated the entrances and the roads to their homes with “farolitos,” which means “little lanterns,” paper bags containing with sand and a lit candle to guide the posadas.
At the last home, the Mary and Joseph are welcomed with a meal of traditional food, tamales and biscochitos. After the meal there is midnight Mass. Taos has a long history with Las Posadas—but this year, while the lights will be lit, the community activity is cancelled.
We all need enlightenment no matter how we welcome it. We can still “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but more importantly we can pray together for patience and wisdom this holiday season. If we hold our loved ones on Zoom, or phones, or outside their windows, they are just as near. The lights of the world can overcome the darkness if you give them a chance.
So, it doesn’t matter if the Elf on the Shelf is there to tattle or not, give him a mask, and Mensch can cover his beard too. Roaring Mouse, lighting a single candle, out.