Saturday, December 28, 2013

HINDU REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS TREE AND LIGHTING

 HINDU REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS TREE AND LIGHTING
(DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, NASHVILLE, TN, DECEMBER 2013)

Christmas was originally the pagan celebration of the winter solstice; a celebration to brighten spirits in the dead of winter and celebrate the coming of spring. Pine tree branches were originally hung around the house representing the green of the leaves in anticipation of the coming spring and homes were decorated with sprigs of holly to brighten up the grey winter months for the celebration.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews.  Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime”. Aswattha Tree is considered to be having its roots in heaven and is worshiped in Hindu traditions.  Banana plants are used in all festivals and celebrations like wedding and Upanayana for decorating the place of celebration as a symbol of good omen. The goddess, represented by the Tulsi plant, is wedded to the Lord, on the eleventh day of waxing moon on the Hindu month of Kaartika, who is represented either by an idol or a Salagrama stone or cane of sugar.  Palika Ritual during Hindu wedding worshiping green sprouts is to worship mother earth seeking fertility and Peace on Earth.

The Christmas tree was traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts, dates, pretzel and paper flower. In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles, which with electrification made it possible to be replaced by Christmas lights. Today, there are a wide variety of traditional ornaments, such as garland, tinsel, and candy canes. An angel or star is also placed at the top of the tree to represent the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity. During Gokulaashtami celebrations Pinna Maram  (a favorite tree   under which   Lord Krishna rested  while grazing cattle is worshiped; this is Alexandria Laurel Dili oil tree. It is the sacred plant found in front of Santana Venugopalaswamy Temple in Poondi. This tree or its branches are brought and worshiped as in Christmas as a part of celebration of Krishna’s birthday in Tamil Nadu. Paarijaata (Ad Ansonia digitations) tree with its fragrant flowers is also a favorite tree of Lord Krishna and is considered sacred. Hindu Americans, Americanize their name of Krishna to Kris often to sound like Christ (sign of cross cultures)! Both are known for their teachings! It is also customary to hang fruits, vegetables and snacks from a square frame above Lord Krishna’s icon for worship during Janmaashtami. I enjoyed Gokulashtami decoration in my own home which was similar to Christmas tree decoration (I did not know about Christmas tree then) when I was young eagerly waiting for 32 varieties of snacks after daylong fast and late night worship!  Perhaps this tradition is much older to the European tradition.
The custom of the Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany with predecessors   can be traced to the 16th and possibly the 15th century, in which "devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes".   Its 16th-century origins are sometimes associated with Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther who, according to the TV channel History, "first added lighted candles to a tree." It is frequently traced to the symbolism of evergreen trees in pre-Christian winter rites, in particular through the story of Donor's Oak (though the oak tree is obviously not an evergreen) and the popularized story of Saint Boniface and the following conversion of the German pagans. Alternatively, it is identified with the "tree of paradise" of medieval mystery plays that were presented on 24 December, the commemoration and names day of Adam and Eve in various countries. In such plays, a tree decorated with apples (to represent the forbidden fruit) and wafers (to represent the Eucharist and redemption) was used as a setting for the play. Like the Christmas crib, the Paradise tree was later placed in homes. The apples were replaced by round objects such as shiny red balls. Customs of erecting decorated trees in wintertime can be traced to Christmas celebrations in Renaissance-era guilds in Northern Germany and Livonia.  In the 12th century the Parisian monk Adam of St. Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol.

By the early 18th century, the custom had become common in towns of the upper Rhineland, but it had not yet spread to rural areas. Wax candles, expensive items at the time, are found in attestations from the late 18th century. Along the lower Rhine, an area of Roman Catholic majority, the Christmas tree was largely regarded as a Protestant custom. As a result, it remained confined to the upper Rhineland for a relatively long period of time. The custom did eventually gain wider acceptance, beginning around 1815, by way of Prussian officials who emigrated there following the Congress of Vienna. In the 19th century, the Christmas tree was taken to be an expression of German culture and of Gemütlichkeit, especially among emigrants overseas.   A decisive factor in winning general popularity was the German army's decision to place Christmas trees in its barracks and military hospitals during the Franco-Prussian War. Only at the start of the 20th century did Christmas trees appear inside churches, this time in a new brightly lit form. In the early 19th century, the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weinberg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816, and the custom spread across Austria in the following years. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840 by the Duchesse D' Orleans. In Denmark a Danish newspaper claims that the first attested Christmas tree was lit in 1808 by countess Wilhelmina of Holstein.

In 1882, the first Christmas tree was lit by the use of electricity in USA. Edward Johnson lighted up a Christmas tree in New York City with eighty small electric light bulbs. It should be noted that Edward Johnson created the first string of electric Christmas lights that were then mass produced around 1890. By 1900, department stores started using the new Christmas lights for their Christmas displays.  Deepaavali, Kartigai and Christmas are the season for LED lights today. This year The Tennessee State Christmas tree is adorned with 3000 LEDs, the Rockefeller Plaza tree has 45,000 and the landscapes at Gaylord Opryland Resort Center in Nashville feature 2 million LED’s providing brilliant light for all to enjoy. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are 80% more efficient than usual Christmas lights, economical during their life even with the higher initial bulb cost. They provide similar quality and appearance, function well in the cold, emit 40 % less heat and last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulb. The light-emitting diode or LED has been around for more than 50 years, but it took the recent development of white LEDs to bring the technology back into the public eye for daily and festival lighting. They are ideal for festival lighting. These are ideal and safer for Kolu steps lighting during Navaratri Celebrations, Deepaavali and Kartigai Deepam lighting of homes.
The main colors of Christmas are red, green and gold, white and silver. Red is the color of love and energy. In Christian tradition, this color symbolizes the blood of Jesus which was shed for all humans that they might be saved. (John 19:34). Red is the color of fire inducing feelings of warmth and visions of roaring fires, red berries and Santa Claus. People who are drawn to the color red are likely to be outgoing, cheerful and impulsive. However too much red could promote anger, over-excitement and intense emotions so it is always good, when using red even as a predominant Christmas color scheme, to offset it with other, less fiery Christmas colors. In Christian tradition green symbolizes eternal life in Christ (John 3:16-17). Green is the color of holly and mistletoe, the Christmas fir tree and a symbol, at Christmas time, of nature. Decorating homes with green foliage, cheers up the dark winter barren tree sad look days with the symbol of hope for new beginning. You feel hope within. Green is a relaxing color; the color of nature and fertility. People who choose green as their favorite color are thought to be well balanced, conventional and conservative. Adding green to the Christmas color scheme will bring harmony into the home. When red and green are combined, it is said to express the hope for redemption through the sacrifices of Christ. The color gold symbolizes wealth. It is also a symbol of good health. In Christian tradition gold symbolizes Christ the Divine (Revelations 3:18) of Kingdom of God. Gold is always identified with royalty.  People whose favorite color is gold are generally optimistic. Gold is the first color associated with Christmas, as one of the three gifts of the Magi, symbolizing royalty.  Hindu deities are bedecked with Gold jewelry and devotees regularly donate such jewelry to fulfill  their vows seeking favor from their   chosen deity.

Even American born Hindu Children believe Santa Claus coming at night to deliver toys and fill stockings. Nicholas was born in Patrai, now known as southern part of Turkey. Nicholas’ devout Christian parents died when Nicholas was a young man.  Nicholas threw gold coins into the windows of poor young girls to provide a dowry. He dedicated his life serving God and became a Bishop of Myra as young man. Nicholas used his entire inheritance to serve the needy and became known throughout the land for his generosity and love for children. He died in 343 AD on December6. This date is now celebrated as St. Nicholas Day in many countries.  Martin Luther   replaced this bearer of gifts with the Christ child, Christ-kind in German language. Over the years that came to be pronounced as Kris Cringle. The dates celebrating the birth of Christ and the gift of giving of St. Nicholas got combined into one holiday. Kris Cringle got converted to Christmas holiday that is widely celebrated.  There are numerous holy men celebrated like Santa Claus in Hindu religion—Bali, Sibi, Karna, Mandhaata etc., whose Birthdays are not particularly  celebrated like Nicholas  Day but always remembered and often quoted.  To Hindus god alone is Santa Claus in his various Incarnations. Lord Krishna was a Santa Claus to poverty stricken Kuchela. God knows what we need and what we deserve. He is our Santa Claus to meet our needs and desires if we leave the choice to him without being avaricious to demand sky.
In Hindu Tradition gold signifies richness and prosperity. Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of wealth is glorified as suvarnarsjatasrajaam, shining bright with golden radiance. There are special religious days earmarked for the purchase of gold, particularly Dhan-teras festival, which comes during the period   of Festival of Lights season in American culture. At Christmas gold can be seen everywhere: in tinsel, candles, Christmas stars, angels and twinkling lights. Adding gold to the Christmas color scheme will promote courage, confidence and willpower and preserve the health of those living in the home.

Silver, like gold, symbolizes richness. Silver is a symbol of strength and can also be related to the moon and feminine energy. In Christian tradition, silver is used in a figurative way to represent God's words. Silver also symbolizes Redemption in Christ (Matthew 27:3-9). Every cloud has a silver lining is a famous quote. This color represents clarity, vision and brightness. Adding silver to the Christmas color scheme will help enhance patience and perseverance within the family. Like the moon, silver has a calming and soothing effect. Silver is named after moon in Hindi (chaandi). Moon is symbolized as cool and romantic in Hinduism.  Lord Sivas’s one eye is cool and represents moon. The other eye is Sun representing fierce nature. Silver vessels are used in Temple worship liberally in Hindu Tradition along with copper.

Snowflakes, winter wonderlands, Santa's beard, the white robes of Christmas angel are all white. White is a color of purity and cleanliness; a symbol of rebirth. In Christian tradition, white represents the coming of the light of Christ into the world. White helps and enhances the brightness of the greens and reds, bringing a more balanced feel to the Christmas color scheme.

In Hinduism red represents Rajo--guna (characteristic) or action which in excess may lead to ego. White on the other hand represents Sattva-guna nobility and divinity in man. Human beings are born essentially with Rajo-guna which they should overcome with Sattva-guna focusing their thoughts on liberation. So, white light should dominate the red. This is what we find in the Christmas lighting scheme. White dominates other colors exhibiting more divinity. Brahma the creator represents Rajo-guna and is red. He is the balance between white represented by Sattva-guna of Vishnu (centripetal force) the preserver and Siva, dark the destroyer representing Tamo-guna (centrifugal force).

Of late blue lights are also becoming popular.  Hindu Americans love blue. It is the color of Lord Vishnu particularly in his incarnation as Lord Krishna. Vishnu is Hinduism’s blue-skinned savior. Lord Vishnu stands out from Hinduism’s other gods; he is calm and cool, and maintains balance in his own behavior just as he maintains balance in the cosmos. Blue, the color of the sky, is symbolic of heaven. It may also be used to symbolize truth. Blue is gaining acceptance as a liturgical color for Advent. Red has different meanings in different cultures. Its meaning can range from health, anger, bravery, love, passion, ego, sacrifice, danger, and courage. But its Christmas meaning is the blood of Christ.  Hindun married ladies and girls wear red Bindi (dot) on their forehead as symbol of auspiciousness and prosperity. Durga, Goddess Invincible is also represented by red in Hinduism with her protruding red tongue. Vermillion red powder is sacred and worn by Hindus on their forehead to rise to spiritual heights. Hindu goddesses are worshiped with red Kumkum or vermilion powder. Like red, green also has different cultural meanings. It can represent fertility, hope, and environmentalism on the positive side.  However, it also has negative connotation such as poison, evil, envy and even death.   During Christmas, green is the symbol of birth and life that remains vibrant even under harsh conditions.  In Hindu iconography Lord Siva is shown as having green or blue neck as he devoured poison Haalahala to save the divines according to Puranas. In Paalika ritual during wedding ceremony green sprouts are worshiped symbolically as Goddess of FertilityText Box: .. Thus it is viewed both in its positive and negative significance in Hinduism also.  
Gold like red and green also has both positive and negative cultural meanings. Gold or its base color yellow can mean bravery or cowardice. It can also mean life and sickness. However, its Christmas meaning is that of the richness of eternal life.  Yellow (Haldi or turmeric) is a sacred color in Hinduism. Gold is called yellow metal.
Green is the color of plant life, abundant in spring. It is used to represent the triumph of life over death. Green is the liturgical color for the Trinity season in some traditions, and may be used during Epiphany in others. Red is the color of blood and therefore is the liturgical color for the commemoration of martyred saints. Red is used as the liturgical color for Pentecost, since it is the color of fire.

White is a symbol of purity, innocence and holiness. It is the liturgical color for the Christmas and Easter seasons. White is sometimes represented by silver. White is not a color but consists of seven colors to create the illusion of perfect whiteness and so represents divinity.  Visible white light is worshipped as orb of Narayana who is the invisible Supreme Being. Yellow lights may be used to represent divinity. However, because yellow light is not pure white, it may also be used to symbolize corruption and degradation.  Hindu deities are clad in yellow robes which is a sacred color.
The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. According to eighth-century biographer Æddi Stephanus, Saint Boniface (634–709), who was a missionary in Germany, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Trinity.  Boniface began to cut fir branches off of nearby trees and told the families to take them home in remembrance of the complete work of Christ so many centuries before. From the fir branches cut on that cold winter spring the traditions of Christmas tree, advent wreath, and Yule log. Saint Boniface stopped the cruel act of Human sacrifice to the Oak tree shrine by persuasion and convincing that Jesus has sacrificed on behalf of all and there was no need for yet another human sacrifice.
In the book Christmas Spirit, George Grant and Greg Wilbur identify the roots of several traditions of the season. The season of Advent is carried over the four Sundays preceding Christmas.  The wreath holds four candles which are lit one by one each Sunday.  This is the origin of start of Christmas lighting a month before and continued till the 5th of January. There is no reference to the Christmas tree in the   Holy Bible anywhere.
The English language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents an importation from the German language.  On Christmas Day, the Christ Candle in the center of the Advent wreath is traditionally lit in many church services. From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. By 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain.   By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.  Christmas trees decorated with lights and ornaments gradually developed and highly commercialized.
Since the 19th century, the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home is also decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels. Both the displaying of wreaths and candles in each window are a more traditional Christmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves usually form an evergreen make up Christmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season. Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world.  In Deepavlai and Kartigai festivals of Hindus rows of oil wick lamps are placed all around the house, the front dominating. Brahman is considered as Light of all lights in the Upanishads. Everything else shines because of Brahman.

In the forests of Europe, mistletoe blooms when all else has succumbed to the harshness of winter. So, over time, the small berries became symbol of hope and life to men of the middle ages. Over the centuries sprigs were brought into the homes of Christians and hung on doors as a reminder of the Hope of Christ in this dark world.  Throughout the Celtic lands of Brittany, Scotland, and Ireland, Holly and Ivy were symbols of victory won. Holly, representing masculine triumph and Ivy representing feminine triumph were often woven together as a sign that men and women need one another. Homes were decorated during Advent with both—often woven together—as a picture of healthy family under God’s gracious providential hand.

Christmas lights and banners are hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places.  It is common in many parts of the world for town squares and consumer shopping areas to sponsor and display decorations. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. In some countries, Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January   Fifth. USA which has a Christian majority also follows this tradition though it often says it is secular. Its motto is “In God We Trust” and that God was Jesus when this motto was adopted for the Nation. India has its motto as “Satyameva Jayate” where Satya means Truth and that is Brahman, the Supreme Being. Since Vedas declare “Eko Viprah bahudaa vadanti”, The One the learned call by many names, it can find favor with all religions and also pleases various religious pursuits in a secular State.
Veneration of trees and light might have sprung from Hindu Tradition.  Its famous Gaayatree Mantra worshiping Supreme Being as Sun and Fire, the visible form of Light is as old as the Universe itself.  As seen above the Christmas Trees and Christmas Lights are of recent origin. There is no Biblical reference to these traditions as far as my knowledge goes. Therefore the inspiration in mid-centuries should have come from others sources like Hanukkah, Pagan traditions which again should have drawn their inspiration from Sanatana Dharma; similarly, many other traditions that celebrate Festival of Lights.  Hindu festivals of lights Deepaavali, Karthigai and Makra Vilakku of Makara Sankranti culminating in Jyotir Linga on Sivaratri Night which I have detailed in my discourse “Festivals of Lights in Ancient Traditions of Universal Appeal” have many references in Hindu Scriptures unlike Christmas Lighting and Tree decoration during Christmas celebrating Birth of Christ. When Bible was revealed to the world there was no Christian Religion. It gradually developed and named after Jesus Christ for he did not start any new religion, his followers did. 
From ancient times Hindus have worshiped plants and trees and regarded all flora and fauna as sacred.  While modern man often works to exploit Mother Nature, followers of Sanatana Dharma in ancient days worshiped her long before they were called and identified as Hindus by foreign invaders.  The Lord, the life in us, pervades all living beings, be they are plants or animals. Human life on earth depends on plants and trees. They are the vital factors that make life possible on earth: food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc. They lend beauty to our surroundings. They serve man without expectation and sacrifice themselves to sustain us. They epitomize sacrifice. If a stone is thrown on a fruit-laden tree, the tree in turn gives fruit—cruelty is answered with kindness. This is also the message of Christ to his followers.
In fact, the flora and fauna owned the earth as God created the world before man appeared on it. This is true for all religions. You have the story of Adam and Eve and the Apple Tree. Presently the world is seriously threatened by the destruction of forest lands and the extinction of variety of vegetation due to callous attitude of humans towards them. Hence Hinduism teaches plants and trees should be worshipped as sacred. This will induce them to take care and protect nature while enjoying benefits derived. Hinduism worships certain plants like Tulasi and Peepal etc., which have tremendous beneficial qualities even today which are included in their daily worship. It is believed that divine beings manifest as trees and plants, and many people worship them to fulfill their desires or to please the Lords.

In almost every Hindu home a lamp is daily lit before the altar of the Lord. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some twice a day—at dawn and dusk—and in a few it is maintained continuously. All auspicious functions like daily worship, rituals and festivals and even many social functions like inauguration of a conference, festival, celebration etc., commence with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained throughout the ritual or occasion.   When somebody dies  an  oil wick lamp is kept burning for 24 hours daily for ten days symbolically at the place of death  for the unsettled soul still waiting for obsequies to be completed in the ten days rites for the departed soul. The light here represents departing soul on its journey upwards. A wick always looks upwards.  When all these traditions started nobody knows; it is as old as Hinduism itself. The celebration of Hindu Festival of Lights, Deepavali including Naraka Chaturdasi, bonfire during Bhogi and worship of column of fire as Jyotirlinga on Mahaa Sivaratri   dates back to several thousand years before the birth of Christ. Vedic people kept permanently sacrificial fire at homes all the times and worshiped them daily. Vedas glorify the Vedic sacrifice fire as having seven tongues of different color in which red dominates. Even today in all Hindu Temples a permanent oil-wick lamp is kept burning perennially called Nanda deepam—a lamp that never gets extinguished from which light is borrowed to light all others.   Thus the sacred fire is associated with red color flame.
Hindus generally do not use electric lights in celebration of their festivals. Hindus use the traditional oil wick mud dish lamps. The oil in the lamp symbolizes negative tendencies and the wick ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge these negative tendencies slowly get exhausted and the ego too finally perishes.

Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievements can be accomplished. Hence Hindus light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all wealth. A single lamp can light hundreds of other lamps just as a man of knowledge can give that knowledge to many. The brilliance of light does not diminish despite repeated use to light many more lamps. So too knowledge does not diminish when shared with or imparted to others. While lighting the lamp Hindus offer the following prayer: “I prostrate to the dawn/dusk lamp, whose light is the Knowledge Principle (the Supreme Lord), which removes the darkness of ignorance and by which all can be achieved in life”--(Deepam jyoti Parbrahma).
Even in Christianity natural colored lanterns were used and later colored candles for illumination before the invention of safety electric Christmas lights. It is customary to place carved pumpkins with candle light inside to give the feeling of sacred yellow lamp to welcome the departed souls and to feed them during Samhain Eve.

Hindu Americans join the Western culture in decorating the houses with Christmas trees and lightings and join the major culture in social celebrations. But their spiritual thoughts are entirely different. To them red color represents the sacred fire and sacred Vermillion powder with which Goddess is worshipped. To Christian Americans red represents the blood of Jesus reminding him of the great sacrifice he made. To Hindu Americans as well as Christians white light represents purity. In addition Christians remember the words of Jesus Christ when he offered white bread as his own flesh. To Hindus white represents Sattva-guna whose custodian is Vishnu. To American Hindus green is symbolic of nature and mother earth. Vishnu is always seen with his two consorts Mother (green) Earth and Golden Hue Lakshmi. Green and gold are symbols of fertility and prosperity. Green sprouts are symbol of fertility used in ritualistic worship by Hindus. To Christians green is a rejuvenating color restoring hope and confidence during gloomy winter months. Gold reminds them of richness of eternal life.  Blue is divine both in the concept of Hindus and Christians. Madonna and Mary are clothed in blue. To Native Americans blue color symbolizes intuition to serve and teach.  To Hindus blue is the Divine color of Vishnu showing vastness like the blue crystal clear skies and his endless care of this Universe to keep the rhythm and orderliness. Light is often identified with the Supreme Being by Hindus. This is the same blazing Golden light and heat that Moses saw and felt in the Wilderness waiting to receive the Ten Commandments.  It is no wonder Hindu Americans keep their temple open all day long on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day by divine motivation to blend with the culture but sticking to their tradition. Abhishekam to Siva as Jyotirlinga is not uncommon in some Hindu temples. In some Hindu traditions   Kartigai lights linger on twinkling around. In orthodox South  Indian  Hindu Tradition the row of lights that were lit during Deepavali continue till the Kartigai Deepam further extended by two days. During Christmas holidays churches sing the glory of God seeking the Heavenly Light for their guidance.  It needs no special mention here to say how important light is to Jewish Community and how they venerate the candle for seven days during Hanukah merging with Festivals of Lights  Season like Deepaavali, Karthigai and Christmas.  Light is worshiped and venerated in many traditions of the world. For details please go through my earlier discourse: Festivals of lights—Ancient in Tradition; Universal in Appeal.
I may like to bring my own personal observation here while enjoying the Christmas tree decoration and Lighting along with all Christians living in my neighborhood. I feel sad when I see my immediate neighbor’s house so dark and gloomy during this festival season. My neighbors belong to the faith of Islam.  Red, green, white and silver colored lights are equally sacred to them though they moved away from their Arabic origin brethren Jews and Christians to establish their authoritative and aggressive religion.   Probably my neighbor is a confused but devoted Muslim American.   The crescent was not a symbol used for Islam by Muhammad, as Islam is against appointing "holy symbols “. That is why they are up against Hinduism and do not want to understand anything and think that Hindus are idolatrous and are not obeying the ruling of Muhammad and Qur’an.   During the early centuries of Islam, Muslim authorities simply did not want any geometric symbols to be used to symbolize Islam, in the way that the cross symbolizes Christianity, the Star of David a commonly occurring symbol of Judaism and Jews, etc. This is why early Islamic coins were covered with Arabic writing, but contained no other visual symbols. But history tells otherwise. Probably the Qur’an thoughts haunt my neighbor!

The color green has a special place in Islam. It is used in the decoration of mosques, the bindings of Qur'ans, the silken covers for the graves of Sufi saints, and in the flags of various Muslim countries. Green has been associated with Islam for many centuries. The color green was the color used by Muhammad’s tribe on their flags. According to Muslims the color green symbolizes nature and life. In the Qur'an (Surah 76:21), it is said that the inhabitants of paradise will wear green garments of fine silk. The color green has been considered especially Islamic for centuries. Crusaders avoided using any green in their coats of arms, so that they could not possibly be mistaken for their Muslim opponents in the heat of battle. The crescent (White) symbol cite verses in the Quran as their basis.[Quran 2:189] Many Islamic nations and charities use the crescent symbol on their flags or logos e.g. Pakistan.    Muslims wait eagerly for the holy appearance of crescent moon for breaking their fast.

Muhammad Ali, who became Pasha of Egypt in 1805, introduced the first national flag of Egypt, red with three white crescents, each accompanied by a white star. This flag, in turn, influenced the design of the first flag of independent Egypt, which was green with a white crescent and three white stars to symbolize the peaceful co-existence of Muslims, Christians and Jews. During the past two centuries the crescent and star has featured on the flags of other Muslim countries. When the rule of the Ottoman Empire ended, Turkey was the only Muslim state regarded as a world power at the time. Its flag was known from West Africa to the Far East, and helped to popularize the crescent and star among the Muslim populations of many countries of Asia and Africa.

The Id-ul-Azha (Bakrid) festival commemorates the ordeal of Prophet Ibrahim, who was commanded at his ripe old age by Allah to sacrifice his only son Ismail, who was dearest to him. Prophet Ibrahim decided to sacrifice the life of his son Ismail in deference to the wishes of Allah. He called Ismail and mentioned to him about his decision. Ismail dutifully agreed to be sacrificed to please Allah. Prophet Ibrahim then blindfolded Ismail and cut off his son's head, only to discover on opening his eyes that his son was alive and a ram had been sacrificed instead. After the sacrifice, when he took off the cloth from his eyes he was overwhelmed to find that his son was hale and hearty standing before him, and at the altar there was a sheep instead. Since then this day is commemorated to honor this act of sacrifice and teach the followers how important it is to sacrifice something that we consider dear so that we are able to tread the path of detachment and only allegiance to God. Red is as sacred to Muslims as is to Christians. Both symbolize sacrificial blood. Muslims fought under green and gold banners to convert people from   other religions. While I was staying in Madras I used to watch the sacrificial sight of Bakrid procession in which devout Male Muslims marched singing Qur’an and beating their chests with iron chains to the point of bleeding. Hindus have similar practice of torturing the body parts by piercing and   bleeding or walking over fire to show their spirit of sacrifice.  Bakrid this year was celebrated in mid-October just prior to Deepaavali and the Festival Season of Lights in America.

Ramadan over several centuries has gradually shifted to what it is today based on the Muslim Calendar. In Egypt lanterns are known to be symbol of Ramadan. They are hung across the cities of Egypt, part of an 800 year old tradition. Lanterns are used to decorate houses and mosques. In Muslim countries lights are strung up in public squares and across city streets to add to the festivities of the month. In Western countries many Muslim households have taken to decorating the inside of their homes to make it look like Festival of Lights but do not wish to decorate outside of their house.  
I therefore do not understand why our nice and courteous neighbors would not join all of us to enjoy the Festival of Lights Season with all others but focus their thoughts on their own thinking but not based on facts as evidenced by the History of Islam since the mid-centuries.  Often many extremists of Islam   turn the thoughts of sacrifice of Islam to that of brutal killing due to ignorance of the spirit of Qu’ran.

One may wonder how green and gold the two opposites, one dark the other bright could be enjoyed together in the Festival of lights? Hindu philosophy is no stranger for such pairs of opposites. Ganesha their popular deity is both the king of obstacles and also remover of all obstacles.  It may not be out of place to quote here recent scientific study in Australia which intimately brings green plant life with gold mining.

Popular is the Tamil saying, which our elders in Tamil Nadu say when we waste money - "Panam enna maratthileya kaaykkiradu?" - Does money grow in the tree? After reading the    following scientific news the proverb seems to be based on well-founded scientific discovery:

Scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have discovered that eucalyptus trees in the Australian outback are drawing up gold particles from deep underground through their root system and depositing the precious metal in their leaves and branches.  Rather than being a new source of 'gold leaf' the discovery could provide a cheaper, more environmentally friendly way to uncover valuable gold ore deposits. Using the science organization's Maia detector for x-ray elemental imaging at the Australian Synchrotron, the researchers were able to produce images that clearly showed deposits of gold and other metals in the structure of Eucalyptus leaves from the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia that would have been untraceable using other methods.  "The eucalyptus acts as a hydraulic pump - its roots extend tens of meters into the ground and draw up water containing the gold.  As the gold is likely to be toxic to the plant, it's moved to the leaves and branches where it can be released or shed to the ground," says CSIRO geochemist Dr. Mel Lintern. Because the leaf-bound 'nuggets' are only about one-fifth the diameter of a human hair, prospectors aren't going to turn a profit by collecting leaf litter.  Dr. Lintern said that it would take the gold from 500 big eucalyptus trees growing directly over a gold deposit to produce a gold wedding ring.  However, because eucalyptus trees are so common across Australia, the discovery could provide mining companies with a cheaper and less environmentally damaging exploration approach than drilling.  The CSIRO team has published details of their discovery in the journal Nature Communications: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2013/131022/ncomms3614/full/ncomms3614.htm
I would like to recall my own experiment with Eucalyptus trees while designing polluted waste-water treatment and disposal without endangering the surroundings in 1977. I designed huge waste-water treatment tanks with bottom not cemented and exposed to natural soil. We planted thick grove of eucalyptus plantation around the treatment plant. Eucalyptus sucked most of the waste water and also with the help of solar evaporation we could minimize the quantity of waste water and treat it to industrial standards and pump it to Esparto grass for cattle feed. The grass was of edible standard for the cattle.  Eucalyptus is a terrible sucker of water and is also immune to poisonous chemicals based on   our experience. We had hundred acres of land of which only 30 acres were needed for the plant.  
Christmas tree and Lighting starts immediately after Thanksgiving Holiday and these decorations are removed on or after 5th of January. Hindu religious Festivals of Lights starts with Deepaavali and ends with Holi with a bonfire when the winter season ends.  Will it not be a good idea for Hindu Americans to start the lighting decorations a day prior to Deepaavali and end a day after Holi or at least the day after Makara Sankranti ( 14th or15Th of January) when Uttaaraayana starts? The lights thus will keep vigil during dark winter months of Dakshinaayana. Christmas festival season falls in between. Thus as Hindu Americans we will be religiously celebrating all our festivals with lights starting with  Deepaavali (with  crackers in addition) and also socially joining with Christian American culture to enjoy the Holidays Season in a spirit of cooperation and act of participation. The idea of bursting crackers with loud noise is to send our message and prayers upwards with sound and light. Christmas Lighting also starts immediately after Thanksgiving (lasting for 40 days) and closes after January 5 only every year. Why not we revive our old tradition of month long lighting and extend it as per convenience following the practice of Christmas Lighting?


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
This discourse has been prepared drawing considerable help from various internet sources, “Why do we…” a  publication of Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India, my several discourses on Hindu Festivals and Rituals published on the Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com> , the discourse “Festivals of Lights—Ancient in Tradition; Universal in Appeal” and Christmas Quest, Nashville Christian Family Journal, December 2013.”