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(December 8, 2015) Our world’s religious and ethical traditions often shine brightest during turbulent and challenging times; the last few weeks have certainly shown evidence of that. The shorter and colder days set the stage for December’s religious holidays and provide a powerful contrast between light and darkness. Truly, holy days are points of light for all of us.
This week in December is notable for a convergence of holy days from different traditions, especially today, December 8. None of these days is among the most important in their various traditions, but each has a special importance to particular communities within each faith. In Buddhism, today is Bodhi Day, the celebration of Shakyamuni Buddha’s awakening or enlightenment—the experience from which the whole Buddhist tradition flows. Bodhi Day is a Japanese tradition followed also by some Buddhist communities in the United States. In Christianity, Roman Catholics celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Jesus’ mother Mary, the belief that she was conceived without original sin, to be a fitting vessel to bear Jesus.
And in Judaism, December 8 is the second day of Hanukkah, the eight day festival celebrating the liberation of Jews from oppressive Greek rule that this year runs from sundown on the 6th through the 14th. American Jews have a special relationship to the Hanukkah festival, because, though Hanukkah is in itself a relatively minor holiday, its proximity to Christmas has given it importance to U.S. Jews, for whom it serves as a kind of ersatz Christmas, especially for children. And again in the Roman Catholic tradition, December 12 sees the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, based on an apparition of Mary to a native Mexican shortly after the Spanish conquest of the country. According to the tradition, Mary appeared to a poor Indian just after the Spaniards had overrun his country underlines for Mexicans (and others) Christianity’s “preferential option” for the poor and oppressed.
And so in this season, three universal religions become very particular, reinforcing communal identities that live as sub-groups within them. We wish a very special blessing on all the communities that you belong to. The craving for community and identity is an integral part of being human, and we pray that all may be able to satisfy it in peace, harmony, and love that crosses all boundaries.