Many of the celebrations held at this time of the year have their origins in the distant past. Christmas is just one of those festivals that is celebrated with gifts, feasting and ceremonies involving light.
5 November: Bonfire night
Guy Fawkes was arrested as he guarded explosives under the House of Lords in 1605. Bonfires were lit to celebrate King James I surviving the attempt on his life. All of those who were involved in the plot were caught and punished. One of the customs of Guy Fawkes Night is to put an effigy (a life size puppet) of Guy on the top of the bonfire.
7 November: Diwali
The Festival of Light features in Hindu, Sikh and Jain faiths and involves a five day celebration where an oil lamp (diyas) or candle is lit every night and placed outside the home to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi, who brings wealth and symbolises the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. The modern day festival is celebrated with firework displays.
31 October: Halloween
Also known as All Hallow’s Eve and based on a Celtic festival called Samhein. This was marked by lighting fires and wearing costumes to ward off ghosts. Halloween has become very popular in the UK with children going door to door asking, ‘Trick or Treat!’ For Harry Potter fans, Halloween is a significant date as Harry’s parents were killed by Lord Voldemort on the 31 October (see https://pottermore.com).
2 December: Hanukkah
A Jewish celebration that takes place over eight nights. A candle is lit each night until all eight have been placed in a candelabra. Hanukkah celebrates a historic Jewish victory over the Syrians, and the rededication of a famous Jewish temple. The festival is a time for giving presents, feasting and playing games.
21 December: Winter Solstice
Also known as midwinter or Jol. It is held on the shortest day of the year and takes place all over the world at the same time. Many people celebrate the Solstice (which means ‘Sun Stands Still’) at Stonehenge, where the sun shines onto a central stone at the exact moment the sun reaches its highest point, as seen from either the North or South Pole.