One of my favorite songs of the 60’s and 70s is “Dedicated to the One I Love,” which was performed by multiple groups, my two favorites the ones sung by The Mamas and the Papas and The Shirelles. The last line in the first stanza ends with the words, “And the darkest hour is just before dawn.”
The line in that song has both a literal meaning-the darkest hour is just before dawn-but also a metaphorical one. During our personal struggles and darkest emotional hours, when doom and gloom seem to permeate our lives, sometimes light and happiness are truly just around the corner, if we can hold on long enough to wait until that happens. If we’re patient, and sometimes we must pay attention before we are aware of it, dawn comes.
The song has meaning to me in another way. Living here in the north, on the south shore of Lake Ontario, the days are short and the nights long this time of year. But it’s not as depressing as it sounds, because if you’re willing to rouse yourself in the middle of one of these nights, you can sometimes view a breathtaking display of Northern Lights over the lake.
Light is a theme in our village, especially from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Our tiny visitors’ center is decorated to look like a gingerbread cottage, trimmed with bright, colorful lights and surrounded by decorated, brightly lit trees. A tree-lighting ceremony in the park brings villagers out to sing carols, enjoy hot beverages and snacks and warm themselves around brightly burning fire pits.
You’ll notice telephone poles wrapped with garlands of evergreens twinkling with white lights and topped with red bows. Lights glimmer on bushes, are wrapped around trees and woven through fences. Candle-lit luminaria line walks, and fairy lights peek through holiday wreaths and garlands.
It’s not by accident, I think, that so many cultures celebrate holidays and festivals from late fall into winter that revolve around light. In many communities you’ll see Menorahs in windows, candles burning brightly, to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Chanukah which commemorates a miracle that happened thousands of years ago.
Candles also burn in Kinaras as Black families celebrate Kwanzaa, to remember their cultural heritage and traditional family values. Hindu families decorate with lights in-and-outside their homes for Diwali, a festival in remembrance of a period in their history when good triumphed over evil. I expect there are others, too.
So, when the days are short and the nights long, how comforting it is to know that many cultures celebrate holidays and festivals that bring light into their lives and homes to brighten those darkest hours just before dawn.