Light in the darkness

This time of year can be gloomy, dark and rather dreary.  The days are short – we wake up to darkness and go home at the end of the work day the same way.

As we head into the holiday season, I am struck by some of the conflicts and divisions in our larger world.  Finding paths forward and places of commonality can seem remote.

These two topics come together for me when I consider the various holiday and faith traditions of the people of Pierce County – and how light is common to many of them.

Whether it’s the candle headdress of the St. Lucia’s Day celebration in Scandinavia or the fireworks of the Chinese New Year a month later, our community has many ways to bring light into a dark world.


Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights and commemorates the re-dedication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, in Israel, in the 160’s B.C.

Hanukkah lasts for eight days and starts on the 25th of Kislev, the month in the Jewish lunar calendar that occurs at about the same time as December. This year, Hanukkah will be celebrated from December 22 until the 30th.

During Hanukkah, Jews light candles held in a special nine-slot menorah (candelabra) called a “hanukkiyah.”  On the first night one candle is lit, on the second night, two are lit until all are lit on the eighth night.  A special blessing of thanksgiving is said, and a special hymn is sung before the candles are lit.

My neighbors growing up were Jewish.  We shared Christmas with them, and they shared Hanukkah with us!


Kwanzaa takes place from the 26th of December to January 1st. The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits’ in the Swahili language.

The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle.

As a result, the candles that bring light during Kwanzaa are also red, green and black.

The mishumaa saba (or seven candles) represent the seven principles celebrated on specific days: unity; self-determination; collective work and responsibility; cooperative economics; purpose; creativity; and faith.


I briefly mentioned Diwali, the Hindu celebration of light, in a previous blog in October.

Diwali (also called Divali or Deepavali) is a festival that celebrates the triumph of light over dark and good over evil, and the blessings of victory, freedom, and enlightenment.  It lasts for five days.

The name comes from Sanksrit dipavali, meaning “row of lights.” On the night of Diwali, celebrants light dozens of candles and clay lamps (called diyas), placing them throughout their homes and in the streets to light up the dark night.

It must be a beautiful sight to see the streets lit up to celebrate goodness and love!


My family and I celebrate Christmas and I’m so happy to be enjoying the fun and joy of the season through the eyes and hearts of my grandchildren, Blair and Lucy.

I have always loved candlelight Christmas Eve late evening services but will likely opt for the “family friendly” earlier service this year – without actual lighted candles!

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my family’s traditions is watching the “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” movie together!

We had fun “lighting” the County’s Christmas tree at the County-City Building this week – with Blair’s help.

I’d love to hear how you and your family bring light into your lives this time of year.  Do you celebrate a holiday?  What are your traditions?


Speaking of holiday lights, I hope you have a chance to enjoy the County’s Fantasy Lights display at Sprinker.  We also have WinterFest kicking off on December 14th!

Before I close, I want to send a special thank you to Jessie Matsch and the whole Risk Management Team.  They’ve been heading up the colossal task of getting us transferred over to the PEBB system, as well as open enrollment for our Teamster and LEOFF Plans.  I’m grateful for the many late nights and weekends they’ve spent making that happen.  I hope that they get something wonderful in their stocking later this month!

On a sad note, we had our first flu death of the season in Pierce County.  I have gotten my flu shot, have you?