Festival of Lights

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Festival of Lights:

see HanukkahHanukkah
, in Judaism, the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Consecration, or the Feast of the Maccabees; also transliterated Chanukah. According to tradition, it was instituted by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers in 165 B.C.
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Dewali (Divali, Deepavali, Festival of Lights)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Hindu)
Date of Observation: October-November; last two days of the Hindu lunar month of Asvina and first two days of Kartika
Where Celebrated: India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, and by Hindus throughout Asia
Symbols and Customs: Games of Chance, Good Luck Designs, Lamps
Related Holidays: Tihar


Dewali is the most widely observed holiday in the Hindu tradition, which many scholars regard as the oldest living religion. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day-to-day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, but they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history.

The word Dewali is a corruption of the Sanskrit word Deepawali, which means "a row of lights." Also known as the Festival of Lights, Dewali is observed primarily in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. In northern India, it is believed that this is the time of year when Lakshmi returns from her summer home in the country. The special oil LAMPS that line the rooftops and windowsills of Hindu homes during the four-day festival are put there to help her find her way.

Because it is the most widely observed Hindu holiday, a number of legends concerning its origin have clustered around Dewali, and Hindus everywhere can find something in it to celebrate. It marks the beginning of the New Year for Hindus in northern India, where people whitewash their houses and businesses, open new account books, and pray for success and prosperity in the coming year. Even the poor put on new clothes, and employers sometimes buy clothes for their workers. In other parts of India, Dewali celebrates the destruction of a demon named Naraka by the god Vishnu. This demon might originally have symbolized the monsoon that floods a good part of the country, and Dewali marks the end of the monsoon season. In any case, Dewali celebrations often include burning effigies of Naraka.

In Bengal, Dewali is dedicated to the worship of Kali, the goddess of strength. Spectacular images of the goddess are decorated and worshipped before being immersed in a river, sea, or sacred tank. In Maharashtra, Dewali is a festival to ward off King Bali, the ruler of the underworld. In the Punjab and Mauritius, Dewali celebrates the coronation of Rama (a manifestation of Vishnu) after his conquest of Ravana, the ruler of Sri Lanka who had stolen his wife. The Jains commemorate the death of their religion's founder, Mahavira, on Deva Dewali, the tenth day after the Hindu Dewali (see MAHAVIRA JAYANTI). The Sikhs-a Hindu religious sect -regard this holiday as a time to celebrate the freeing of their Guru Hargobind Sahib by the Mughal emperor. In Nepal, it is called TIHAR, a multiple holiday that celebrates the New Year and Lakshmi.

Dewali is as important to Hindus as CHRISTMAS is to Christians. In fact, there is a modern custom of sending greeting cards wishing friends and relatives a "Happy Dewali and a Prosperous New Year." It is a time for showing charity toward others and for making a fresh start at the beginning of the New Year.


Games of Chance

Gambling on Dewali is a traditional activity, certain to bring good luck. According to Hindu legend, the god Shiva played a game of chance with his wife, Parvati, Dewali

and lost everything. When his son, Kartik, saw how depressed his father was over his losses, he was determined to win back his father's money and reconcile his parents. He studied the art of throwing dice, went to his mother and challenged her to a game, and ended up regaining his father's lost wealth. Now it was his mother who became melancholy. She taught her other son, Ganesh, how to throw dice, and Ganesh defeated Kartik. Deciding that the entire business had gone far enough, Shiva sent Ganesh to bring his mother back home. Instead, Ganesh found her gambling with Narad and Ravana. Vishnu-who, along with Shiva, is one of the two most powerful Hindu gods-had taken the form of a pair of dice and caused Parvati to lose everything. She was about to curse Vishnu for cheating her when Ganesh intervened. Instead, she pronounced a blessing upon all those who play with dice on the first day of Kartika, assuring them that they will be successful in all of their dealings throughout the year.

Good Luck Designs

In some parts of India and Malaysia, families draw elaborate designs called alpanas on the floors of their homes near the front door to welcome Lakshmi. These good luck designs are made from a special rice flour, symbolic of abundance and welcome. The flour may be left white or mixed with dry pigments to form different colors. The design is usually abstract or incorporates a traditional folk motif like the paisley. Some cities hold competitions to see who can make the most beautiful alpana.


The most outstanding feature of Dewali is the constant illumination by lamps, bonfires, and fireworks. People line their houses, courtyards, roofs, and gardens with oil-filled earthen lamps (called dipas), candles, or electric bulbs. Some buildings even use neon lights. But even where electric lights are used, it is customary to leave an open lamp of burnt clay filled with ghee or clarified butter burning throughout the night at the nearest place of worship so that Lakshmi will feel welcome and will be able to find her way home.

The custom of burning lamps originated with the Vaishnavas-those who worship Vishnu as the supreme god and who observe Dewali in honor of the coronation of Rama, the greatest of India's hero-kings and the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. On the night of the coronation, it is said that the entire countryside was illuminated by lights to symbolize Rama's role in leading the world from darkness to light.

In Bengal, Dewali lights take the form of lit torches held on long poles. Here it is believed that Dewali marks the beginning of the night of the Pitris (souls of the departed ancestors), and the torches are intended to guide them. The best illuminations can be seen in Bombay and in Amritsar, where the famous Golden Temple is lit in the evening with thousands of glittering lamps placed along the steps of the huge tank or sacred pool.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Gupte, B.A. Hindu Holidays and Ceremonials. 2nd ed. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1919. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Oki, Morihiro. India: Fairs and Festivals. Tokyo: Gakken Co., 1989. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Sanon, Arun. Festive India. New Delhi: Frank Bros., 1986. Sharma, Brijendra Nath. Festivals of India. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1978. Sivananda, Swami. Hindu Fasts and Festivals. 8th ed. Shivanandanagar, India: Divine Life Society, 1997. Thomas, Paul. Festivals and Holidays in India. Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala Sons, 1971.


BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/holydays/diwali.shtml

Hindustan Times www.hindustantimes.in/news/specials/diwali2006/index.shtml Dewali

Hanukkah (Chanukah, Feast of Dedication, Festival of Lights)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Jewish)
Date of Observation: Between November 25 and December 26; from 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet
Where Celebrated: Europe, Israel, United States, and by Jews all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Dreidel, Latkes, Menorah Hanukkah


Hanukkah is a religious holiday in Judaism, one of the oldest continuously observed religions in the world. Its history extends back beyond the advent of the written word. Its people trace their roots to a common ancestor, Abraham, and then back even farther to the very moment of creation.

According to Jewish belief, the law given to the Jewish people by God contained everything they needed to live a holy life, including the ability to be reinterpreted in new historical situations. Judaism, therefore, is the expression of the Jewish people, attempting to live holy (set apart) lives in accordance with the instructions given by God.

Although obedience to the law is central to Judaism, there is no one central authority. Sources of divine authority are God, the Torah, interpretations of the Torah by respected teachers, and tradition. Religious observances and the study of Jewish law are conducted under the supervision of a teacher called a rabbi.

There are several sects within Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is characterized by an affirmation of the traditional Jewish faith, strict adherence to customs such as keeping the Sabbath, participation in ceremonies and rituals, and the observance of dietary regulations. Conservative Jewish congregations seek to retain many ancient traditions but without the accompanying demand for strict observance. Reform Judaism stresses modern biblical criticism and emphasizes ethical teachings more than ritualistic observance. Hasidism is a mystical sect of Judaism that teaches enthusiastic prayer as a means of communion with God. The Reconstructionist movement began early in the twentieth century in an effort to "reconstruct" Judaism with the community rather than the synagogue as its center.

Hanukkah commemorates the successful rebellion of the Jews against the SyrianGreek King Antiochus, who was determined to impose the Greek religion on all of his subjects. He forbade the Jews to read from their holy books, to pray to their god, or to celebrate their holidays. When Matthias, a Jewish priest of Modin (near Jerusalem) and his five sons heard about the king's decrees, they decided to fight back. They ran to the hills and organized a small army led by one of the sons, Judah (also known as Judas Maccabeus). They fought the Syrians for three years and finally succeeded in forcing the Syrian army out of their land in 162 B . C . E .

After the battle was over, the Jewish victors went into their Temple to get rid of the pagan altar and the statues of Zeus and other Greek gods. They wanted to rededicate the Temple to their own god by relighting the holy candelabrum known as the MENORAH . According to the story, they could only find enough consecrated (pure) oil to burn for one day, and it would take eight days to get more. Miraculously, the menorah burned continuously for eight days on its small supply of oil. The rededication ceremony took place on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev-the anniversary of the Temple's desecration by the Greeks three years earlier. For this reason, the festival is sometimes called the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah means "dedication" in Hebrew) or the Festival of Lights.

What Hanukkah really celebrates is the survival of Judaism. The Maccabees' primary goal was to preserve their own Jewish identity. So the holiday is not so much a commemoration of a military success as a celebration of Jewish independence and of religious freedom in general. Interestingly, it is the only major Jewish festival that is not mentioned in the Bible.



Known as a sevivon in Hebrew, the dreidel is a small, flat-sided top that spins on a central post or stem. Each of the four sides bears a Hebrew letter: Nun, Gimel, Hay, and Shin. Taken together, NGHS stands for the words nes gadol hayeh sham, which means "A great miracle happened there"-a reference to the miraculous burning of the MENORAH for eight days.

There is a theory that the game of dreidel was brought to Europe from India during the Middle Ages and eventually played by German Christians on CHRISTMAS EVE . The German letters H, G, H, and S stand for Nichts (nothing), Ganz (all), Halb (half), and Stell ein (put in). The Jews, according to this story, replaced the German letters with Hebrew ones that sounded similar, and made them into an acrostic of the Hebrew phrase, "A great miracle happened there."

The Hebrew letters found on the dreidel also carry numeric values: Nun=50, Gimel=3, Hay=5, and Shin=300. The players take turns spinning the dreidel and accumulating points. After an agreed-upon number of rounds, the person with the highest score wins. Sometimes small change, candy, or raisins and almonds are put in a pot. If the dreidel falls on Gimel, the player takes the entire pot; if Hay, the player takes half; if Nun, he or she takes nothing; and if it falls on Shin, he or she must put half of his or her pile in the pot. The game can be made more challenging by drawing a circle two feet in diameter and trying to keep the spinning dreidel inside the circle. The player whose spin travels outside the circle loses a turn.

The dreidel was often used in places where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion. They would meet, supposedly to play the dreidel, but in fact they would secretly pray together or study the Torah. Although early dreidels were carved from wood found in the forest, nowadays they can be purchased in many sizes, made from a variety of materials, including redwood, silver, and plastic. In addition to recalling the miracle of the burning menorah, the spin of the dreidel also Hanukkah

symbolizes the spinning of the earth on its axis and the cyclical nature of both the seasons and the fortunes of the Jews.


Latkes are potato pancakes served at Hanukkah in memory of the Maccabee women who cooked latkes for the Jewish soldiers when they were fighting the Syrians. Because they are fried in oil, latkes also symbolize the tiny jug of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days when the MENORAH in the Temple was first rekindled after the Syrians were driven out.


The original menorahs were made out of clay and burned oil. The design of today's menorah, which stands on a base from which nine branches sprout like the fingers of a hand, dates back to the Middle Ages. The Hanukkah menorah is called the hanukkiyyah. It has eight places for separate candles and a ninth place for the shammesh or "servant" candle, which is used to light the others. The shammesh is usually set apart by being higher than the other candles.

The lighting of the Hanukkah candles, which stand for spirit, courage, justice, and hope, is the festival's most important ritual. Using the shammesh, the first candle is lit at sundown on the 24th day of Kislev. On the second night, two candles are lit. On each night thereafter, one more candle is added until, on the eighth night of the festival, all eight (along with the shammesh) are burning together. Because Hebrew is read and written from right to left, the candles are set each night from right to left. But they are lit from left to right. The candles are left burning for at least a half hour and are allowed to extinguish themselves. The lighting ritual is accompanied by a blessing and a brief statement in Hebrew about what is being commemorated. The 30th Psalm, a kind of anthem for the festival, is then recited.

The lights associated with Hanukkah are not even mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees, which has led many scholars to conclude that they had nothing to do with the festival originally, but were adapted from the popular pagan custom of lighting candles, torches, or bonfires at the time of the WINTER SOLSTICE. But for most Jews today, the lighting of the candles in the menorah is symbolic of the rekindling of the Temple candelabrum by Judah and his followers.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Cashman, Greer Fay. Jewish Days and Holidays. New York: SBS Pub., 1979. Cuyler, Margery. Jewish Holidays. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978. Drucker, Malka. Hanukkah: Eight Nights, Eight Lights. New York: Holiday House, 1980. Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Gaster, Theodor H. Festivals of the Jewish Year. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1953. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Renberg, Dalia Hardof. The Complete Family Guide to Jewish Holidays. New York: Adama Books, 1985. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Trepp, Leo. The Complete Book of Jewish Observance. New York: Summit Books, 1980.


Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America www.ou.org/chagim/chanukah/default.htm
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Lights, Festival of

Mid-November to January
The biggest event of the year in Niagara Falls, New York, is its Festival of Lights, which is held for about eight weeks during the Christmas holiday season. The falls themselves are illuminated, as are displays throughout the town featuring more than 200 life-sized storybook characters in dozens of animated scenes. There is an arts and crafts show, a toy train collectors' show, a boat show, a doll show, and magic shows. There are also numerous sports tournaments. Musical events include performances by internationally known singers, gospel choirs, bell choirs, steel drum bands, jazz groups, and blues bands. During the festival more than half a million lights adorn the city, which was the site of the world's first commercial hydroelectric plant in 1895.
Niagara Falls Tourism
5400 Robinson St.
Niagara Falls, ON L2G 2A6 Canada
905-356-6061; fax: 905-356-5567

Lights, Festival of (Ganden Ngamcho)
November-December; 25th day of 10th Tibetan lunar month
This Tibetan Buddhist festival commemorates the birth and death of Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), a saintly scholar, teacher, and reformer of the monasteries, who enforced strict monastic rules. In 1408 he instituted the Great Prayer, a New Year rededication of Tibet to Buddhism; it was celebrated without interruption until 1959 when the Chinese invaded Tibet. He formulated a doctrine that became the basis of the Gelug (meaning "virtuous") sect of Buddhism. It became the predominant sect of Tibet, and Tsongkhapa's successors became the Dalai Lamas, the rulers of Tibet.
During the festival, thousands of butter lamps (dishes of liquid clarified butter called ghee, with wicks floating in them) are lit on the roofs and window sills of homes and on temple altars. At this time people seek spiritual merit by visiting the temples.
Office of Tibet
Tibet House, 1 Culworth St.
London, NW8 7AF United Kingdom
44-20-7722-5378; fax: 44-20-7722-0362
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 618
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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