Learning symbolism, creating memories during holiday season

  • Published
  • By Commentary by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Matthew Boarts
  • 21st Space Wing Chaplain
The British playwright James Barrie wrote, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” The celebration of holidays can strengthen us with memories that provide a sense of stability in the midst of life’s challenges.

Holidays recall the grand events of significance for entire communities. For example, Christmas recalls the Nativity of Jesus Christ for the Christian community and Hanukkah recalls the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem for the Jewish community. The grand events of holidays are remembered through stories, communicated through symbols, and enjoyed in shared experiences.

People recall the story of Jesus’ birth during Christmas. They share the story in worship. Many churches build up to the Christmas story for four weeks during a series of worship services known as Advent. They also tell the story in Christmas pageants where children learn the story as they memorize their lines. The story is also recalled in a variety of songs.

In Hanukkah, people recall the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after a victory over a powerful army. They share the story in an eight day celebration known as the Festival of Lights, which recalls the miracle of a one-day supply of oil in a lamp lasting eight days.

Symbols tell the stories with significant objects. Christians recreate the birth scene of Jesus with Nativity sets. A symbol of Hanukkah is the Menorah - a lamp stand with seven lights that are progressively lit over the days of Hanukkah. Other symbols include lit Christmas trees and festive lights in and on homes.

The Peterson AFB Chapel grounds feature a Menorah lit during Hanukkah and a Christmas tree that is lit during a ceremony in December. These symbols provide comforting reminders to people who choose to remember those holidays. They also can provide an opportunity for parents to explain the significance of the symbols to their children if they wish. We can also learn about unfamiliar traditions through learning more about their symbols. Keep an eye out for the different symbols on display during this season of frequent holidays.

One of the symbols at the chapel moves over time. The Wise Men, which are part of the Nativity, begin placed at the opposite end of the chapel grounds from the rest of the Nativity. Over several weeks, they are moved closer and closer to the Nativity until they reach it on Epiphany, which is celebrated soon after Christmas. This movement recalls the journey of Wise Men from distant lands to the place where Jesus was born.

Finally, holidays are enjoyed in shared experiences. These include special worship events, parties and shared meals. Families and individuals create personal memories that help define their relationships. Often these shared experiences form significant personal memories.

When I have opportunity to go home at Christmas time and I enter the church where I worshipped as a child, I feel like I’m 10 years old and all is right with the world! Reliving, and even recreating experiences of our youth not only communicates our values to our children, but it helps us remember what is truly important in our own lives and provides a sense of stability in the midst of life’s challenges for new generations.