BBC Radio Scotland December 8 th 2021

I have to confess that I’m feeling a little deflated this week. Last week, thanks to the vagaries of organising festivals by a lunar calendar, was the festival of Chanukkah. It usually falls close to or parallel with Christmas. But this year it started in November, and it’s already finished.

Like so many winter festivals, Chanukkah is a festival of lights. As the nights grow longer and the darkness, along with the chill, seeps into the diminishing daylight hours, life always seems a little gloomier, and somehow more daunting. Jews all over the world have just lit candles on eight consecutive nights, culminating in the candleholder, the menorah, blazing with its full complement of nine lights last Sunday. Members of the Glasgow Reform Synagogue joined on Zoom every night to share the candle lighting, and many gathered in the synagogue on Sunday afternoon for a Chanukkah party at which much unhealthy food was consumed.

Meanwhile, the Hindu festival of Diwali, which was almost 5 weeks ago, offered its share of lights into darkening skies and streets and homes throughout Scotland are doing their best to drive away the darkness with festive Christmas colour.

I think there’s more to all these festivals of light than just decoration and celebration. They represent a kind of defiance, a resilience of the human spirit. We live in a world that currently seems to offer an unremitting catalogue of doom and gloom: a new Covid variant, migrants and refugees drowning in the channel, political leaders the world over posturing and blustering in ways that seem to have little to do with benefiting the people they are supposed to serve.

So we light Chanukkah candles, we set off Diwali fireworks, we adorn our houses and our streets with bright Christmas lights as though saying to our darkening world ‘Do your worst. Shroud us in darkness if you will, but we will resist your attempt to extinguish our human spirit. We will shine the lights of our respective winter festivals into the long nights and comfort ourselves – and those around us – with the knowledge of human warmth and the courage to hope.