Celebration of Lights honors winter holiday traditions

Jaydelle Herbert
Staff Writer

Candles of every variety lit up the Sacred Space in the Ludwick Center on Dec. 2 at the annual Celebration of Lights event organized by University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner.

The event honored the winter holidays of the different faith traditions celebrated by members of the University of La Verne community. 

There were 35 students and faculty who attended the event to learn about Diwali, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the traditions of Islam. 

The Celebration of Lights started with a reading on light by sophomore legal studies and French major Isela Chavez and senior sociology major Olivia Magby, who are student members of the Interfaith Fellows organization.

“The event was to recognize that each religion has light within their scriptures or candles and how this helps people who practice that faith or celebrate that holiday to use light as a way to get out of dark places in their life,” Magby said. 

After Chavez and Magby lit three candles, Provost Kerop Janoyan came to the podium to reflect on how light is symbolized within his community through Christmas light decorations in his neighborhood. He said Christmas lights have brought his neighbors together during the holiday season.

Janoyan also said he is happy he is with the University valuing the importance of inclusion of all faiths and celebrations.

Wagoner opened the reflection of the holy days by expressing what the Sacred Space symbolizes. 

“The Sacred Space is shaped in a circle with no corners,” Wagoner said. “There is no end or beginning. Everyone is a part of the circle.”

Dean of Library and Learning Vinaya Tripuraneni shared her reflections on the Hindu festival of Diwali, which means a row of light. She said it is celebrated on the night of the new moon during the darkest day of the month.

“The light symbolizes victory of light over darkness, triumph of good over evil, triumph of knowledge over ignorance, new beginnings; and the welcoming of peace, harmony and prosperity into your home,” Tripuraneni said. 

Kira Degelsmith, president of Hillel, the Jewish club on campus, shared the meaning and history of Hanukkah. 

She said the holiday directly reflects the significance of light within Jewish culture. 

“One time when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was ransacked and taken over, a group of Jews called the Maccabees wanted to take it back,” Degelsmith said. “Once they won the fight, they didn’t have any light because it was nighttime. They wanted to celebrate with light and found just enough oil to burn just for one night.”

Degelsmith said during the eight nights of Hanukkah, there are two Hanukkah blessings sung. She sang the blessings as she lit the Hanukkiah with the middle candle. 

Bodhi Day is a holiday celebrated by people who practice Buddhism. Wagoner showed the audience a Bodhi tree display with Buddha sitting underneath. 

“I practice a very minor faith,” Grayson Ruyak, sophomore creative writing major, said. “In my faith, Winter Solstice is very unique to me. I think it’s something for a lot Pagan and Wiccan people who find themselves outside of the mainstream religion.”

Misty Levingston, associate director of Multicultural Affairs and Black Student Services, reflected on Kwanzaa, which she described as an observance of African traditions. 

She said Kwanzaa is based on African principles such as family, community and unity.

“I take pride in Imani (faith), which is the last principle of Kwanzaa,” Levingston said. “I am very community oriented and I try to embody all of those principles not just during Kwanzaa, but throughout the year.”

“It gives you the opportunity to learn something else and different. Being that we are a campus that is made up of different cultures and religions it is important to hear everyone’s perspectives,” Levingston added.

The University has hosted the Celebration of Lights event for about four years. 

Tiffany De Leon, Title III grant program coordinator, attended the Celebration of Lights for the first time. 

“Hearing everyone share and express how they celebrate during this season was honestly very beautiful, especially how authentic and raw some of the things people shared, made me feel so enriched,” De Leon said. 

The celebration, with bright light shed by the candles from the many different traditions in the center, ended with a prayer. The Interfaith Fellows handed out white candlesticks for participants to pass the light to each person.

Magby said once she realized each person would pass the light to the next person, she felt a sense of community.

“All of us sharing light rather than one person individually handing the light to each person makes us whole,” Magby said.

Jaydelle Herbert can be reached at jaydelle.herbert@laverne.edu.

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