Open Mind: Season of Light

For our seasonal article this year I sat down with Chaplain Ram Kalap, one of the spiritual care therapists here, at the Homewood Health Centre.

During our talk, he enlightened me about various aspects of this time of year, and also left me with some reflections and ideas.

This festive season brings with it many demands, both financial and emotional. It has been so commercialized and the expectations can seem insurmountable. Ram explained that it is supposed to be a family time. However, what if your family is apart or relationships are strained? It is supposed to be “merry” yet there are so many struggles and suffering.  Ram asked me to reflect on three celebrations that happen at this time of year.

One is Kwanzaa, a cultural celebration not a religious one, where descendants of Africans celebrate for seven days, lighting a candle for each day as they dedicate it to each of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Kwanzaa means “first fruits”, and was started to celebrate African heritage after the many atrocities and oppressions suffered. It began in America during the civil rights movement and is celebrated around the world today.

Hanukkah, the festival of light, is a Jewish tradition where people celebrate their successful revolt against oppressors and the purification of their temple.  It is said that their lamp burned for eight days, which is seen as a miracle because there had only been enough sacred oil to create light for one day. To commemorate this significance one candle of the menorah is lit each day for eight days.

In the Christian tradition, this season celebrates hope, peace, love and joy by acknowledging the birth of a saviour. His parents had endured a treacherous journey through the dessert, his pregnant mother riding on a donkey. The trek was due to an oppressive political figure requiring a census of all inhabitants and they had to go to Bethlehem to be counted. The child was born in a stable and laid to rest in a manger. The birth was marked by a spectacular star in the night sky.

Interesting that all of these celebrations focus on light amidst the darkness and denote the human strength of coming through the journey. 

Many people use the term “light” to define qualities such as personal strength, wisdom, energy, healing, human connection, kindness or peace. Ram emphasized that all of our lives have challenges and that many of us struggle to find the “light” in ourselves. This might really be what the season is all about. Ram feels that each of us need to be actively involved in our own happiness and celebrations this time of year. Even if you are alone or feel alone in a crowd or with your family and friends. You can actively engage and bring “light” to your own journey of wellness by caring for yourself or sharing with others.

Ram acknowledged that sometimes we put all our energy into the celebrations this time of year, and fail to recognize the struggles within us or those around us. He encourages us all to take a moment to reflect on our preparations. He asked me if the preparations I am considering are to impress and appease, or honour? Quite different values aren’t they?

During this busy season, consider keeping expectations within your means, financially, socially and within your energy level. Ram suggests recognizing that this season is not so much about the demands of keeping up with traditions but finding what touches your heart and focusing your energy on that. Find moments to spark the “light” in yourself this holiday season.

Whichever celebration of light you participate in, the official celebrations are only for a short time. The energy and discovery of your “light” can last. Plan your holiday to suit your capabilities and celebrate the “light” in you continually.

Although it can be difficult to see, Ram encourages us to sense the light in each of us that endures through whatever journey you are on.

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Paula Frappier is an occupational therapist and community education coordinator with Homewood Health Centre and CMHA. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Paula Frappier