Santa Lucia, Scandinavia
The festival of Santa Lucia in Sweden, Norway and parts of Finland celebrates the 3rd-century martyr, Saint Lucy, who brought food and aid to Christians while wearing a wreath of candles to light her way. These days each town elects its own glowing Santa Lucia, who leads a procession beginning with sweet young children dressed all in white, and singing traditional songs. The festival is the kick-off to the Christmas season, and brings hope – and, of course, light! – to the darkest time of the year.
Aarti is a Hindu fire ceremony performed by Brahmin disciples to honour the holy river and their Gods. Aarti is a true spectacle: Every night at 7 pm the holy Ganges River in Varanasi is covered with hundreds of flickering lights. Varanasi is a sacred place Hindus aim to visit at least once in a lifetime to cleanse their sins by bathing in its purifying water. Devotees believe that by attending the ceremony purification and blessings will come their way.
Loy Krathong, Thailand
Around November each year, at the end of the main rice harvest season, locals thank the goddess of water for a year of plentiful rain. In this ancient ritual, thousands of one-meter-high lanterns, called khom loy, are released into the air – often with fireworks and firecrackers attached. Releasing them symbolically sends bad luck and misfortune exploding into the air, while the flame honors Buddha with its light.
Obon Festival, Japan
This Buddhist festival honors the spirits of one’s ancestors, who are said to return to this world to visit their loved ones each year. Celebrated in Japan for over 500 years, Obon has evolved into kind of a family-reunion holiday, during which people return to ancestral places to clean and make offerings at their ancestors’ graves, and to reflect. Obon begins and ends with fire. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits to our world, and at the end of the festival, floating lanterns are set adrift in rivers, lakes and seas in order to help guide the spirits back into their world. In Kyoto the spirits are given the most fiery send-off of all, as five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city to send them on their way.
This light ritual is one of the biggest festivals of Hindus and is celebrated all over India, Diwali celebrates the day Rama-chandra, the seventh avatar (incarnation of the god Vishnu), returned to his Kingdom. The festival is celebrated for five days, with the third day being the main celebration day of the ‘Festival of Lights’. On this day people light up diyas (oil lamps) and candles all around their homes. They light candles because the day Rama-chandra returned, there was a new moon: a moonless night. People lit diyas to light up his path. Happiness is the keyword during this festival. This is expressed through the lights, to kindle the light of wisdom in every heart, the light of life in every home and to bring a smile on every face.
Hannukah, Jewish festival of light
Hanukkah commemorates the victory on the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. and is celebrated during eight days. This Jewish holiday starts on the 25th day of Kislev (the 9th month of the Jewish year). The lighting of the candles has become the most important ritual of Hanukkah. Every night one more candle gets lit on the menorah, the traditional candle holder, until all candles are glowing on the final day of celebrations. To inspire others, the menorah is placed in the window sill of homes as a beacon to all passers-by that darkness can be dispelled with wisdom and obscurity can be illuminated with truth.