Hannukah and Diwali: two festivals of light
Every year between the end of November and the end of December, Jewish people around the world celebrate the holiday of Hannukah, the Festival of Lights.
Each year, growing up in the London Jewish community, I’d take part in the celebrations, and each year I remember hearing the sound of fireworks at night around the same time of year, as the Hindu community celebrated Diwali – also the festival of lights.
On both festivals, celebrations involve the lighting of traditional oil lamps. Diwali is known as the 'festival of lights' because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fuelled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them. Similarly, on Hannukah, it is customary to light the menorah by a window where it can be seen by passers-by.
But it wasn’t until later that I was able to recognise that the similarities between these two festivals went beyond their name, or where they fell during the calendar year.
Perhaps most importantly is the message behind these festivals of light. The reference is not only to physical light as we know it. The Diwali festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. Similarly, on Hannukah lighting the menorah is a symbol of hope: hope that after the worst adversity something will survive that allows us to begin again with what remains.
Today the message remains important, representing the reaffirmation of mankind to challenge and overcome injustice wherever we find it and to bring that light into the lives of those who have experienced enough darkness. Our task is to ensure we do not lose our hope of a bettering the lives of those who find themselves in constant struggle.