Advent Candles

Pat first lit the 5 weekly Advent Candles in 2020 and again in 2022.

He says - Ar sca'th a che'ile a mhaireann na doine. Under the shelter of each other, people survive.

Advent, definition:

“The first season of the church year leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays”.

Christmas, definition:

“The annual Christian festival celebrating Christ's birth, held on the 25th of December in the Western Church”.

Those words above could have been the beginning, middle and end of the shortest article ever written for Tara Celebrations… but it’s not quite done yet.

After a little scrutiny, there seems to be some unanswered questions about Advent and Christmas, not least being that given that the birth of the afore-mentioned Christ was about 2,000 years ago, what were people celebrating for thousands of years before that around the same date?

The Neolithic people in Ireland that, 5,000 years ago, built a chamber that is lit up by the rising sun in late December at Newgrange, for example?

Or the Roman festivals of Saturnalia or Juvenalia? (wealthy Romans also celebrated the Birth of Mithra, an ancient Persian God of Light, on December 25th).

What were the ancient Britons celebrating when they built the monuments at Stonehenge that are aligned with the rising sun near the end of December?

Come to think of it, the definition refers to the “Western Church”, which begs the question:

what were/are the Chinese celebrating at Dongzhi or the Japanese during Toji?

Both are celebrated at the end of December as are Shab-e Yalda (Iran) as well as similar celebrations by Native American tribes including the Zuni and Hopi. The plot thickens, but it is only when one realises that these are all in the Northern Hemisphere of our planet that one can begin to remotely understand what is afoot.

When we look further afield (speaking from a European perspective) and we discover that similar celebrations in the Southern Hemisphere are held towards the end of June, a pattern begins to develop and the puzzle is nearing solution.

The Incas of South America, Native Australians, New Zealanders, Asians, Africans and others all hold, or have held, festivals to mark the same time of their year wherever they are on the planet.

The time in question is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and a time of immense importance to the ancient peoples who depended so much on Nature in the form of the Land, Weather and of course the Sun.

After the Winter Solstice, the days get longer and there is more sunlight,

which in turn feeds the plants,

which in turn feeds the animals,

which in turn feeds us humans and keeps us healthy, wealthy and indeed alive.

An ever-revolving cycle of life which always depends on the Suns return each year, the return of Light, of Hope – an event to be celebrated indeed.

So, whether you are celebrating the return of the “Sun” or the “Son” at this time of year, join us as we look forward over the next four weeks to the “Advent” of a wonderous event.

This year, of all years, I feel it’s important to have something to look forward to after months of a Global Pandemic and it's attendant illness and death. So I’ve made my own Advent Candle Wreath and invite you to join me on my journey to the Light at the end of a very Dark year.

Traditionally (i.e. in my community), there are 5 Candles in the Advent Wreath:

3 purple ones, a pink one and a white one in the centre.

The 4 coloured candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and one candle is lit each week of Advent with the final centre candle being lit on Christmas Day (or Winter Solstice Day if one prefers).

Let us begin by lighting the first candle

Week 1 - “Hope”

Hope, definition:

“to cherish a desire with anticipation:

to want something to happen or be true”

Thich Nhat Hanh said,

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

At the time of writing, there is talk of a vaccine being produced that will hopefully protect those people who are vulnerable to the effects of the horrible Covid-19 virus that has laid waste to society as we know it for the past year.

What with people dying, falling ill, hospitals being over-run, lockdowns, unemployment, economies being devasted and more, this has been a year to forget.

However, a vaccine should offer us hope. Hope of a better future, of a more “normal” future when we can meet loved ones without fear of contaminating them with a deadly virus. It should absolutely enable us to “bear a hardship today” if there is hope of an end to the threat of Coronavirus and a return to normality.

On reflection though, I hope for more than a return to normality because I believe that what we’ve come to accept as normal is not normal at all.

Having spoken to friends and relations recently - by “Zoom” of course – there’s a recurring question being asked as we’ve been forced to exercise locally, spend more time with our families and realise that what we miss are the simple things like a chat with friends, a hug or shaking hands with friends.

The question is this,

“What were we doing”?

All the running around, rushing from place to place, meetings, classes for our children, endless shopping, driving and doing, doing, doing instead of BEING!

So, I hope for a return to a different life - a different society.

A society where we appreciate people who work in health care and retail and delivery companies – the people who have never stopped working throughout this Pandemic.

A society where we realise that we don’t need money to enjoy life – chats, hugs and walks in nature cost nothing.

A society where we look out for the less fortunate among us.

A society where the more fortunate among us realise how lucky we are to have the lives and the comforts that we take for granted.

As I light the candle of Hope this week I’ll reflect on those hopes –

I hope you do too.

After a week of Hope, we light the second candle

Week 2 - “Love”

Love, definition:

“an intense feeling of deep affection”

“feel deep affection for (someone)”

“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.” (Wayne Dyer)

Love is a HUGE subject to be thinking about at any time.

For starters there are so many types of Love; love of food, art, a parent's love, love for a partner and so on. So for the purpose of this Advent candle, which symbolises Love, as we approach Solstice/Christmas time, I’m going to focus on love of our fellow humans.

Obviously if we all loved one another equally there would be no war, struggle, poverty, starvation, climate change, destruction of our planet Earth and more… Yes, it IS that big!

Let me just roll back all that a little bit and let me suggest that it all begins with love of ourselves.

How many of us have that critical voice in our heads constantly finding fault with ourselves? With our appearance, our performance in work, family, with friends? How many of us can’t even take a compliment without putting ourselves down?

Maybe we need to take Mr Wildes’ sentiment on board and begin a lifelong romance with ourselves. After all, it’s well known that we can’t truly love others until we learn to love ourselves first. Nobody is perfect and the sooner we accept that of ourselves the sooner we can accept it in others and that’s when the Love comes in.

As the old saying goes: we love them – warts and all.

Love is one of those mysterious things that can’t be seen or measured – as George Burns said:

“Love is a lot like a backache, it doesn’t show up on X-rays, but you know it’s there”!

That said, all great religions and philosophies readily admit that Love is of the utmost importance (indeed there’s more than one religion which states that “God is Love”).

Traditionally at this time of year Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Joseph accompanies his virgin partner Mary to Bethlehem where she gives birth to a baby boy – now that’s love! In fact the whole Christmas story is laced with examples of love and we realise also that the journey is an important part of the whole process – much as in life itself. The journey through this year for example has been a long and rocky one but with some love liberally thrown in, hopefully we will get to the end and be able to celebrate with loved ones as the Light returns to our lives.

So we know it’s kind of important but now what?

What to do with this information?

Live it.

Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it, just simply live it.

It sounds like a cliché but love yourself and then love your neighbour as you love yourself.

As we light our second candle this week we reflect on Love. Meditate on it and go do it.

The world will be a better place and you will become a Loving person living in a Loving world.

We light the third candle

Week 3 - “Peace”

Peace, definition:

“freedom from disturbance; tranquillity”

“a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended”

“John” (Pat Farrell – 11/12/2020)

He said, “Give Peace a Chance” and yet he was shot dead.

A man of a million words “I’m shot” was all he said.

On that fateful day in 1980 a giant of music died

and around the world for our lost innocence, we cried.

“Imagine”, he once sang and dared us all to dream

of living in a Peaceful world - and yet it always seemed

in his conflicted genius-mind violence was never far.

(He once wrote about a guy who blew his mind out in a car).

Ironic how a man of Peace should meet a violent end

at the hands of a lunatic who could’ve been a friend.

A Working-Class Hero to many, a wordsmith beyond compare,

his lyrics can still be heard almost everywhere.

Overall, I think it’s
better if you focus on the good

like “Happy Christmas, War is Over”, if you could.

I like to think that he is still watching from above

and telling us for one last time, “All you need is love”.

Our third candle represents Peace which as the definition says means a state in the world when there is no war. SO THAT’S FAIRLY STRAIGHTFORWARD, SURELY?

Well, not really. Let me elaborate a little…

“It is impossible to have world peace without individual peace. Individual happiness brings collective happiness. Society devoid of the individual is impossible”.
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Just as Love begins with the individual, so it is with Peace.

Peace of mind, Peace of Heart – all is necessary before World Peace is attainable. After all the world as we know it – the warring world that is – is made up of billions of individuals so it stands to reason that if we can get individual Peace, the rest follows.

The question is, how? Johan Galtung, the Father of Peace Studies (who knew?!) talks of negative peace and positive peace, while Luis Gallardo, Founder & President at World Happiness Foundation, writes in his essay “Fundamental Peace”:

“The centuries-old saying “as within so without” explains this perfectly – it’s a universal truth of law that the outside world is a reflection of our inner world, and if we feel trapped, physically, mentally, or spiritually, we are unhappy, and therefore we are not at peace.”

Yes, it’s complicated and it’s messy but it is possible to get some degree of personal peace – it just takes a bit of work. It’s an ongoing process but as Einstein said:

“Life is like riding a bicycle – to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

That seems to be the key – BALANCE.

(Note that I’ve done all the leg-work here so you don’t have to… one article on how to obtain peace of mind lists no less than FORTY ways!).

work-Life balance, balance of expectations v. reality v. obligations.

(We’d all love to take off and follow our dreams to some tropical paradise but there’s kids/pets to be fed and bills to be paid).

We can start our PEACE PROJECT by thinking about it and asking some questions – such as:

What makes us happy?

What do we have to do?

What do we not have to do?

What would we like to do?

What do we need to do?

These questions – and some breathing exercises and meditation can truly set us on the road to Inner Peace after which World Peace will eventually follow. (It’s a work-in-progress). The trick is to make a start – baby steps – and once progress is seen more work can be undertaken. There are innumerable books on the subject of self-development / Peace of Mind and once we know what we’re looking for – and we will – we can use others experience of their journey to help us on ours.

So, in the week when we light our third candle in the Advent Wreath and we remember that John Lennon was shot and died 40 years ago all we are saying is…

give Peace a chance.

The 4th candle is pink

Week 4 - “Joy”

Joy, definition:

“a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”

Our fourth candle is for Joy, so I want to write about unbridled, ecstatic joy. Innocent, childish, rapturous joy. The kind of joy you get from running through a field on a sunny day with the sun on your face, a carefree mind and laughter in your heart. The overwhelming, all-consuming joy experienced when one becomes a parent. The joy of walking a dog by a river at sunrise in the summer, the shared joy of a family celebration or the mass joy shared by a crowd when a goal is scored. The kind of joy that borders on Bliss, which is perfect happiness…

There are other kinds of joy of course as - like everything else we’ve spoken about – everything is relative.

This year in particular, joy is hearing that a vaccine to Covid-19 has been produced and should be safely available to all next year. Joy is hugging a loved one. Joy is sharing a conversation with family over a cup of tea, having a pint with friends, driving more than 5km to have a walk on a beach or on a mountain path. The simple things that a lot of us realise we took for granted but won’t ever again.

The joy of giving, the joy of loving. The joy that mere words cannot express – that can only be conveyed by a look, a feeling, a sense.

A barefoot stroll along a sandy beach hand-in-hand with a loved one, all doe-eyed and loved up, oblivious to the whole world.

A pulsating, effervescent, booming, heartfelt, roller-coaster-ride type live performance by an orchestra.

A baby born to save the world complete with celestial guides, angelic chorus and mystical visitations.

The joyful realisation of our Ancestors that the sun was coming back with it’s life-giving light and heat.

A splash of life-saving water on parched lips, so close to death but given the gift of life.

It’s all relative, like most things, so what is the essence of Joy?

In my opinion, Joy slots in between Happiness and Bliss. Happiness, that fleeting feeling often overshadowed by impending doom, and Bliss, a much longer-term affair where such shadows are absent. “Follow your Bliss”, said Joseph Campbell presumably meaning that if you do that which makes you happy, you will be joyful. This is not always possible, as has been mentioned previously in this Advent series but for now, being the time to celebrate the return of Light to our lives, we’ll focus on the positives.

It would be all too easy to complicate this piece with thoughts on philosophy, the Universe and the meaning of life but that wouldn’t bring us much Joy at all. Like the story of a Divine birth in a stable or merely looking to the horizon to physically see the sun staying longer in the sky each day after Solstice, it’s as well to keep things simple and just feel the joy that abounds all around.

Laughter can certainly bring us joy and so I can tell you that I was reminded of a famous TV comedy sketch when putting together my Advent Wreath and I went into a shop and asked for “four candles”! (For the uninitiated, see The Two Ronnies “four candles” sketch.)

So, let us laugh more, let us seek out the good things around us and be joyful, let us notice the simple things and rejoice in them, let us put away our phones and other screens and if we’re lucky enough to be able to, let us look at the world through our eyes in wonder and awe.

Of course, when I say “simple”, I mean simple things like a tree, an oak tree for example, which comes from a tiny acorn that is buried in the ground until it just knows when to sprout a trunk and roots that grow and grow until it is over 200 years old and weighs 14 tonnes with leaves (which it grows every single year) that can create energy from sunlight… simple things like that.

It sounds like a cliché, but I think we need to look at the world through the eyes of a child, to whom almost everything is wonderful and new and Joyous.

So, at this time of year when we move from the Darkness into the Light, let us rediscover the amazing things in our lives, let us rediscover the Joy in our lives.

The joy of a Robin feeding in our garden,

the joy of a snow-covered field,

the joy of the beautiful designs made by frost on a window,

the joy of giving and receiving presents,

the joy of feeling full after Christmas dinner,

the joy of sharing,

the joy of caring,

the joy of seeing the beautiful light displays everywhere,

the joy of children who’ve been visited by Santa,

the joy of sharing a drink with friends and family.

The joy of Christmas.

The joy of life.