Happy Solstace


I was going to write up a description of my high school’s weird “Candlelighting” ceremony that was always performed on the last day before winter break as a secular alternative to a Christmas pageant for a school whose students were mostly Jewish. But it seems Tony Sachs did it last year at the Huffington Post:

The ceremony started with the headmaster, who in my day was a bespectacled fellow with a demeanor not unlike that of a younger Ronald Reagan, striding onstage holding a long lit candle. Behind him, the stage was filled with more candles, most of them unlit, mounted on weird geometrically-shaped stands that made the whole thing feel even more like a particularly elegant Satanic mass. “In the season of the sun’s rebirth,” he would solemnly intone, “on the eve of the winter solstice, I consecrate this house … with LIGHT.” Then he’d walk over to one of the unlit candles and light that baby up. The only thing missing was a hooded robe and an altar on which to sacrifice one of the pre-K kids.

If that wasn’t enough, one lucky “pagan” from every grade would march on up, candle in hand, for his or her own little bit of consecration. Starting with the sixth grader, each student would read a line from a poem which was either written by a student decades earlier or by some guy named Ffyglygthl in the 6th century, I’m not sure. “Build your house upon the hill of truth,” it began, and went on to include such doozies as “May the Roof of your Dwelling be Love; the wing of the Archangel; the Great Fire.” […]

I’m still amazed that, to the best of my knowledge, none of our parents ever complained that the school was trying to turn their children into godless, fire-worshiping heathens. These are people who would threaten lawsuits if their kids were given an A-minus on their chemistry midterms instead of an A. I suppose bowing down to the gods of flame one day a year didn’t adversely affect a Harvard application.

You can read the whole candlelighting poem here. The school started in kindergarten, but I didn’t start going there until ninth grade. Consequently, I was fully aware of how bizarre this was from the get-go. Still, I always thought it was a neat ceremony. And, honestly, there would be a lot to be said for changing things up and holding a big, non-sectarian, gift/tree/family oriented Holiday on December 21 that would be followed on December 25 by a low-key church-oriented celebration for practicing Christians.