Welcome to the Festivals of Light Blog

The Children's International Learning Centre is pleased to present pieces about the Festivals of Light, written by volunteers, members and friends of the CILC. Once again, they have also been featured on the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) Blog this year!

New blog posts will be released as per the schedule below so be sure to stay tuned! Scroll down further to see last year's partnership with the RBG.

Celebration/Observance: Date of Celebration/Observance Blog Release Date
Diwali November 4, 2021 (November 2–6) November 4, 2021
Hanukkah November 28–December 6, 2021 November 29, 2021
Christmas December 25, Orthodox Christmas: January 7 January 6, 2022
Kwanzaa December 26–January 1 December 27, 2021
Lunar New Year February 1–15 February 1, 2021
Ramadan/ Eid-ul-fitr April 2–May 2, 2022, Eid-May 2, 2022 April 4, 2022

Hanukkah
(November 28th – December 6th)

Ethan Sniderman (he/him), Grade 10 student, Friend of the Children’s International Learning Centre

For my family and me, Hanukkah is a time to appreciate friends and family, who all get together to celebrate this joyous festival. At a time of the year when we are experiencing more darkness in nature with each passing day, it is satisfying to light candles and celebrate this Festival of Lights. It’s not just a one day holiday, either. Hanukkah lasts for eight days and each night we add a candle until our Hanukkah menorahs/hanukkiah (candle holder) are fully lit on the final culminating night. In ancient times, the flames were lit with a wick in pure olive oil and there is a miracle associated with this holiday. Let’s take a look at that.

Hanukkiah and Torah, 2019–2020 Hanukkah Display, Festivals of Light Programme
Hanukkiah and Torah, 2019–2020 Hanukkah Display, Festivals of Light Programme

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the historic victory of the Maccabees (small Jewish army) over the larger Syrian army. Embedded in that story is the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem being reclaimed after it was ransacked by King Antiochus’s army. The Jewish Maccabees cleaned up the mess in the Temple and restored it to order. However, there was only one vial of pure olive oil to light the seven-branched menorah. They thought this one vial would only last for one day and it would take eight days to make more oil. With faith, the Jews lit the menorah anyway and miraculously, that one vial lasted for the full eight days! From then on, the menorah could always remain lit.

The miracle of the oil means that the foods we eat on Hanukkah are delicious fried foods.  Grated potatoes and onions are fried into crisp and golden pancakes called latkes and served with apple sauce or sour cream, depending on your preference.  In Israel and around the world, jelly-filled fried donuts called ‘souvganiot’ are served to the delight of many. These tasty treats remind me of what Hanukkah is about- the miracle of the oil. It also makes me curious about the plants we have that provide us with oil for cooking. Here in Canada, we don’t plant olive trees, but we do have sunflower, canola, rapeseed (from the mustard family) and corn plants. These plants all produce oils which we use for cooking. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to make latkes and souvganiot for Hanukkah.

Decorating your home for  Hanukkah is something that is fun and uplifting. Traditionally, the colours of the Jewish holidays are white/silver, blue and yellow/gold. Flowers are always a lovely decoration and you may be able to find some in the Hanukkah colour theme. Some examples of these flowers are cornflowers, Hoary alyssum, Coreopsis and marigold.

Hanukkah Display, 2017–2018 Festivals of Light Programme
Hanukkah Display, 2017–2018 Festivals of Light Programme
Hanukkah Display, 2019–2020 Festivals of Light Programme
Hanukkah Display, 2019–2020 Festivals of Light Programme

Sometimes, because of giving and receiving presents, it is hard to remember why we have this holiday. But, by eating latkes and playing the dreidel (spinning top) game, we have reminders of the miracle. The dreidel is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side.  The letters spell out Nesh Gadol Hayah Shem, which means A Great Miracle Happened There (Jerusalem) so we remember the miracle.  Dreidels in Israel say Nesh Gadol Hayah Po – A Great Miracle Happened Here.

We have this holiday because people like the Maccabees were able to stand up and fight for their beliefs. In dark times, we celebrate light and hope which Hanukkah teaches.

Diwali

(Hindu faith: November 4, 2021 — November 2–6 for 5-day celebration)
(Sikh faith: November 4, 2021)

Diwali, celebrated by people of Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths worldwide, is a festival that commemorates the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. The name comes from the term “dipavali” which means “row of lights”. Based on the lunisolar calendar, the five-day period falls in late October to November with the third day being the peak of celebrations. Traditionally, diyas/deepas (decorated clay lamps) are lit throughout homes and streets at night.

In Hinduism, Diwali is celebrated to honour King Rama’s return to his kingdom after victory in a battle, and to pray to Goddess Lakshmi for good fortune and prosperity. In Sikhism, Diwali is celebrated to mark the release of the 6th guru, Guru Hargobind and 52 princes who were wrongfully imprisoned by Emperor Jahangir. In Jainism, Diwali marks the anniversary of Lord Mahavir’s attainment of moksha or eternal liberation.

Both religions of Hinduism and Sikhism celebrate Diwali using many common elements including: lights, food, prayer and traditional clothing. Many families place diyas (decorated clay lamps which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil) along the ledges of their home and/or use electrical twinnkle lights. While celebrating Diwali, many unique sweets and snacks are made or bought at local shops. These sweets are often made with various fruits, extracts, seeds and more. Popular ingredients include coconut, rosewater, nuts, and dates to name a few. The traditional outfits worn on Diwali may include: sari (long piece of cloth draped around the body) or shalwar kameez (tunic and flowy pants) for women and kurta (shirt) and dhoti (long loincloth) for men.

Celebrating Diwali from a Hindu Perspective

Bhaheswary Thirukumar (she/her), Friend of the Children’s International Learning Centre

The celebration of Diwali has always been a special one for me, especially during my childhood in Sri Lanka. On the morning of Diwali, I would wake up to the sound of temple bells ringing by my home and start getting ready for the day. My siblings and I would wear new dresses gifted to us by our parents and make our way to the temple for worship. Throughout the day, we would prepare traditional foods and sweets that are particularly made during festive occasions. As the sun starts to set, we would decorate our pooja (or puja– prayer) room with colourful flowers and numerous deepas or diyas (clay lamps). Our collection of deepas for Diwali was always unique, placed in diverse patterns inside and outside our home. We would continue with a pooja for Goddess Lakshmi and then, serve homemade food and sweets to guests visiting our home. This beautiful day would end with several families on the street coming together to play with sparklers and fireworks that glow in the dark sky. Moving to Canada, some elements of our celebration have changed. However, the essence and delight of Diwali remain alike.

Diya from Thirukumar Family
Diya from Thirukumar Family
Used during pooja by Thirukumar Family
Used during pooja by Thirukumar Family

Celebrating Diwali from a Sikh Perspective

Kirpa Sihra(she/her), grade 6 student, Brampton, Friend of the Children’s International Learning Centre

My Diwali celebrations start off by going to school where we celebrate by changing into our cultural clothes. Then, we perform traditional dances, usually Bhangra (a type of popular music combining Punjabi folk traditions with Western pop music) and Giddha (popular folk dance of women in Punjab region of India and Pakistan).  This gives us a chance to celebrate as a community and learn about each others cultures.

After that, we go home and I help my dad put up lights on my house to symbolize the day. Then we go to the Gurdwara (place of assembly and worship for Sikhs) to listen to religious music and see our family there. My family is also Radha Soami (belief that living gurus are necessary for a guided spiritual life) so after the Gurdwara we go to Satsang (sacred gathering). At Satsang, we make Diwali crafts like diyas and rangoli with paper, colours, and various other materials. Then we go home and we paint real diyas to light and place them at the front of our house. Then we take lots of pictures and eat sweets to end this special day of celebrations.

Batik and sitar in Diwali 2019 display at the CILC
Batik and sitar in Diwali 2019 display at the CILC
Diyas at night in Southern Ontario from Kirpa’s relatives.
Diyas at night in Southern Ontario from Kirpa’s relatives.
FOL title on a green background above a menorah

CILC & RBG at Home

The Children's International Learning Centre is delighted to be featured on the Royal Botanical Gardens Blog!  We will have an 8-part series planned for RBG at Home about different festivals around the world. We will add updates to this page every time we upload something new.  To read our current posts, click on the pictures below!

Light weaves a common thread to unite people from north to south, east to west in the celebration of many festivals. Journey with us as we learn of celebrations and observances through the words of friends and volunteers of the CILC via the RBG at Home blog.