Winter time is a special time in many religions. Often special festivals are celebrated during the darkest months of the year. Often lighting of candles, special meals and families gathering together are a part of these festivals.
The winter festival season starts with Diwali in October/November, when the victory of light over darkness is celebrated. Diwali has a significant role in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism – even if the three religions remember/celebrate different events each.
In November/December (in most of the years in December) Jews celebrate Hanukkah and remember the miracle of the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the year 165/4 BC.
In December (Eastern Orthodox Churches which follow the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian because of the difference between them in January) Christians celebrate Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ.
Often there are special regional festivals more or less connected with religious traditions in this time of the year. One example is the Swedish Lucia celebration at the 13th December, when they remember a Sicilian saint from around 300 CE.
What can we learn from the case that those winter festivals are so widely spread among the religions (there might be some festivals from other faith traditions that I missed…)? Well probably not that the religions are “in the end all the same” and even if there are parallels in the stories that are told at those festivals that “they celebrate the same thing, but in different ways”. There are good cases why Christians are, apart from maybe festival exchanges, not celebrating Diwali or Hanukkah as a part of their own tradition and why Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. Especially the comparison of Hanukkah and Christmas shows that they are in their core completely independent festivals, even if some traditions around them are very similar. The Jewish temple, which’s rededication is celebrated at Hanukkah has no special significance for Christians (although the first Christians were Jews and as such of course praying at the temple and for Christians it is completely clear that “their” god is the one, who was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem). For Jews usually Jesus, who’s birth is celebrated on Christmas has no special (positive) significance (although he was a Jewish Rabi/teacher during his life and all of his early followers where Jews).
What the different faith traditions are sharing, and which is an important part of the different winter festivals is the hope. It’s a hope for a “better” world, where “good” wins over “evil”, where there is light and no darkness. This hope connects us today in a world where nationalism gets stronger, where people build walls and fences between each other, where we face a lot of political crisis and maybe a nuclear war, where people are starving to death in Yemen and people get persecuted for their faith in a lot of places in the world. This hope connects us also with all the people before us. With those 100 years ago during the first World War, with those 500 years ago in the times of the Christian Reformation, the beginning Colonialism and the life of the Sikh Gurus, with those 2000 years ago, when Jesus was born in a small village in a remote corner of the world and with the Jews who celebrated the rededication of their temple about 160 years earlier and with all the people living before us. We all are united by this hope and it might encourage us to work together to make this hope of a better world one day become true.