The holiday season at SMUS begins with the annual Carol Service. In the weeks that follow, we have concerts, assemblies and other events in the lead up to Winter Break. But it’s the Carol Service, held at Christ Church Cathedral, that truly exemplifies the inclusivity and community feel that is so prevalent at this time of the year. Our Carol Service is a gathering of families from our Junior, Middle and Senior Schools as together we listen to beautiful music and messages from our talented students. This year’s event was no exception, as students wowed the audience with their wonderful singing and thoughtful messages.
Below, read those messages and the final prayer that were written by Middle School students Daniel B., Sophia E., Zephyr F., Deristhi G., Alex T. and Samantha Y, with the assistance of Rev. Keven Fletcher.
Thank you to our community for collecting more than $2,300 for Our Place Society as part of the evening.
There was a time at our school when almost everyone who attended more or less celebrated the same religious tradition.
When we sat down as the Writing Team, we soon realized that during this season, members of our small group celebrate three different festivals: Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas.
It makes us feel proud that we’re able to talk about these different festivals because we know that there are parts of the world, even here, where people are put down for their religion or lack thereof. Some are made to feel left out, discriminated against, or simply uncomfortable. People sometimes lose friends and end up closed off from others.
Knowing this, we’re proud that we try to be an inclusive community and we want to make the most of our diversity – recognizing the cultures that are part of our school.
This makes us the kind of community where we feel connected, not because we’re all the same, but because of who we are together as a whole.
So tonight, we are going to celebrate how much we have in common by looking at how each one of us is different. As each of us relates one of the three traditions, listen for where you hear similarities.
Namaste. The five day festival of Diwali gets its name from the Sanskrit word, Deepavali, which means “row of lights”. It is celebrated by Hindus around the world. Diwali varies in why and how it is celebrated based on where people live, but all Diwali festivals salute the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Before Diwali arrives, we clean and declutter our home. We make a variety of mithai or Indian sweets and buy brightly coloured traditional clothing. On the third day of Diwali, considered the most auspicious, we decorate our home with rows of lamps, called diyas and with a Rangoli, a flowery pattern made of colourful powders. We give thanks for our blessings as we pray to Mother Lakshmi, the Goddess of luck and prosperity. The prayer is usually followed by a feast and, sometimes, a fireworks display. When Diwali comes to a close, we take into the New Year a renewed commitment to live life in a way that brings light, love, truth, beauty and peace to the world.
Shalom. Hanukkah is an eight-day festival that’s marked by our Jewish families, like my own. It originates from when our people were saved by the Maccabees from the Syrian Greeks. After the battle, the temple was rededicated and someone went to relight the Menorah lamp, but there was a problem: there was very little purified oil left and it would take eight days to make more. Somehow, that little bit of oil lasted the full eight days. Today we celebrate our liberation by lighting the Hanukkiah, adding a candle each night until they are all lit. We play dreidel for gelt (chocolate coins) with friends and family and eat Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) with sour cream or applesauce.
Peace. Christmas is a twelve-day celebration, but the main focus is on December 25th. Christmas is our celebration of the birth of baby Jesus. Think of the nativity scene with the shining star overhead; and Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus in his manger; and the shepherds and wise men travelling from afar to present their gifts. In the modern day, it is a time of lights on trees and houses, of seasonal songs and foods shared with family and friends. It’s also a time to remember how we should live together, offering a message of peace and goodwill to all. Most people celebrate Christmas morning by gathering around a Christmas tree and opening gifts together.
We hope that you heard some common threads between Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Later in the service, we’ll share what we noticed.
When our group shared our experiences of Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas, we were struck by the common theme of light: Diwali with its clay lamps softly lighting homes, Hanukkah with its Hanakkiah growing brighter each night; Christmas with its advent wreaths, colourfully lit trees, and story of a guiding star.
For us, that light symbolizes hope, peace, and tranquility – a path for us to follow.
Right now, it seems that our world is heavily in need of a path forward. When we think about global warming, the state of human rights, the need for quality education or anything in the Global Goals promoted by the United Nations, we could benefit from a path well-lit by hope.
At the same time, our attention doesn’t always need to be on the big issues. On a smaller scale, our world would be much better if people were kinder in general to each other. We’re not sure whether this can be taught because so much of it is a matter of our mindset. We can, however, encourage and influence people.
Maybe our own actions can offer their own kind of light. For example, when we choose to invite someone to come over and join a game, we make them feel welcome and the other people there experience the warmth of making someone feel that way. It makes a difference to everyone.
Of course, sometimes we’re the ones who feel lonely, angry, and/or excluded. Imagine there’s a group of people playing four square and they keep getting you out as soon as they start – it feels as if they did it on purpose. How do we respond?
Tattle? Stab them with a pencil?
No. We need to step back. Look at it from a different angle. Take a breath. Problem solve. Put ourselves in their shoes. We might talk to them or start up our own game or go get advice.
Whether we’re talking about big issues or day-to-day ones, our actions can spark hope for others, lighting the way forward. Hope can lead to big dreams and accomplishments.
We’re not saying that it’s that simple or that it works every time. The important thing is to keep hoping, and, even more importantly, take action on these hopes. Our ideas don’t always work as planned. Life has a way of getting dark, but this season of light – the celebration of Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas – it reminds us of what is possible: light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.
It strikes us that when we live in a challenging world, three celebrations of light are better than one – more hope for us all.
Namaste. Shalom. Peace.
I invite you to join me in prayer. Let us pray.
For family and friends who are elsewhere this season,
that we remind ourselves we are connected by love no matter the distance,
and that what really matters is our memories that we share.
For those who face poverty on a daily basis,
that their needs are met with their hopes for the future realized,
and that we are kind and empathetic towards our friends in need.
For those who face discrimination solely because they’re different,
that they are accepted for who they are,
and that we appreciate the diversity they bring.
For those who face hunger around the world,
that they may be filled emotionally as well as physically,
and that we remember them as we sit down for our own special meals this season.
For those who are lost,
that in this season, they find peace and a sense of purpose,
and that we, as well, remember our values, using them as our compass.
And finally, God,
that as we move into this season,
let us embrace the hope that lies at its heart,
so that our lives might radiate its light.
So we pray. Amen