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December 7, 2012     Post-Gazette
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December 7, 2012

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Page 4 POST-GAZETTE, DECEMBER 7, 2012 L The Festivals of Light o, c..00o mG-00 /,. Lately, it seems like an days and now people incor- Lucy's Day traditions find abundance of lights are glit- porate oil into fried Hanuk- ways to counteract this early . .  .... . tering all around me. While kah delicacies. I fondly re- darkness. This holiday is decorating my Christmas tree, I basked in the famil- iar glow of the twinkling, multicolored bulbs that weave their way through the branches. I stood at my fianc6's side as his family lit the first candle in their Advent wreath, the flame flickering warm and golden against the purple wax. I love the way the delicate white icicle lights festooning the roof of my house shine through my bedroom window and bathe the space in a honey-hued luminescence. During the holiday shopping season, bright lights from stores and malls and restau- rants call in people like a beacon beckoning to a ship. I imagine that across the sea in Italy, villages are aglow with candles, Christmas trees and illuminated Nativ- ity scenes or presepi. It can be easy to dismiss these lights as mere decorations for the holiday season, but in reality the use of lights this team of year speaks to a deep yearning in the human consciousness. As the winter solstice ap- proaches and brings with it the longest night of the year, people look to light to provide comfort, hope and suste- nance throughout the dark- ened nights. This quest proves so powerful that many winter holidays contain the concept of light as major themes, infused by :he knowledge that the days 'ill grow longer after the sol- stice. Two of those holidays, Hanukkah and St. Lucy's Day, occur this upcoming week. I grew up in a town with a substantial Jewish popula- tion, so my school festivities always consisted of a blend of Christmas and Hanuk- kah traditions. Hanukkah, which begins on the evening of December 84 this year, is an eight-day holiday that commemorates the rededi- cation of Jerusalem's Holy Temple after a successful Jewish rebellion. Oil plays a large part in Hanukkah as during the cleansing of the Temple people feared that there was not a sufficient amount of oil to keep the sacred candleholder, or menorah, burning. The oil miraculously lasted for eight member childhood Hanuk- kah parties where I played a game of dreidel with my friends and amassed shiny piles of gelt or delicious chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. The smell of fried potato pancakes, called latkes, would waft through the classroom. I would often eat my latkes with a scoop of sour cream and a scoop of applesauce, relishing the way these tangy ingredients offset the decadent crispi- ness of the pancakes. How- ever, the most striking as- pect of Hanukkah traditions is the use of light, which lends the nickname "Festi- val of Lights" to this holiday. Every night of Hanukkah Jewish families light a candle on their own menorah and by the final night all the candles burn brightly, sym- bols of hope against a dark winter night. While re- searching the website of food writer and photographer Katherine Martinelli, I dis- covered that Italian Jews celebrate Hanukkah by making pastries known as precipizi, or fried and sweet- ened dough balls infused with olive oil. Appropriate to the theme of light breaking the darkness of the winter solstice, the precipizi look like little sunbursts. Another winter holiday that strongly integrates light into its customs is St. Lucy's Day, which falls on the 13 th of December. Italians known this holiday as Giorno di Santa Lucia and it com- memorates St. Lucy, a Sicil- ian martyr who now serves as the patron saint of the island's City of Syracuse. In Sicily,-people eat a wheat berry porridge known as cuccia on this day in remem- brance of the time St. Lucy alleviated a famine in Palermo by sending in ships bearing wheat. In other ar- eas of Italy, St. Lucy brings presents to children on the night of December 124 . Ital- ians may also repeat the rhyme "Santa Lucia, il giorno pifi corto che ci sia" -- mean- ing "Saint Lucy, the short- est day there is" -- and in- deed, Saint Lucy's Day was the shortest day of the year prior to the implementation of our modern Gregorian cal- endar. Fortunately, Saint NEW LOCATION Since 1969 FOR ALL YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS AUTO * HOMEOWNERS * TENANTS COMMERCIAL Experience makes the difference 209 BROADWAY, REVERE, MA 02151 Tel. 781.284.1100 Fax 781.284.2200 Free Parking Adjacent to Building especially important in Scandinavian countries, where winter nights are long, cold and dark. There, the oldest daughter in the family arises early on the morning of St. Lucy's Day _and dresses in a white dress with a red sash and sports a wreath of electric candles on her head. She wakes up the members of her family and offers them a breakfast of coffee and pastries. Many major Scandinavian cities hold public St. Lucy's Day processions where girls clad in white and boys dressed like Christmas elves or gingerbread men parade through the streets holding candles, singing a translated version of the Italian song "Santa Lucia," which my grandmother remembers from her boarding school days in Naples. The official treat of the day is the Lussekatt, or a sunny yellow bun made with saffron and raisins. Since saffron is ex- pensive here in the United States, I celebrate St. Lucy's Day by baking a batch of sweet potato biscuits. I use a recipe that incorporates a lot of sweet potato, so that the biscuits gain a pleasant golden color and remind me of the sun's growth after the winter solstice. Undoubtedly, darkness seems to completely envelop the world as the frigid win- ter nights eke their way to- wards the solstice. However, this very darkness allows people to enjoy the plentiful lights that characterize the season -- lights that ema- nate from shop windows and Christmas trees, from roof- tops and decorations. Many winter holidays employ lights as symbols of hopes, as anticipation of the prom- ise that the sun will shine longer after the solstice. Hanukkah sets winter aglow with candles shimmering on top of a menorah and deep- fried treats that resemble sunshine. During St. Lucy's Day, candlelit parades illu- minate the cold winter nights and once again, past- ries of a golden hue remind people of sunshine as surely as they satisfy the stomach. This winter, I will not com- plain about the darkness but rather appreciate its merits and celebrate the lights around me, and all the hopes they represent. As I look up at the stars, I will recog- nize that my family and my friends are the true lights of my life and I will honor them this holiday sea- son and beyond. Ally Di Censo is a Graduate Student in History at the Uni- versity of Massachusetts Bos- ton. She appreciates any com- ments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folklore at DRIVERS l 70% Drop & Hook CDL-A, 6 mos exp. (888) 406-9046 Home Weekends. .44 cpm NE Dedicated. Chromed out trucks w/APU's As I Approach Christmas, I Start Thinking About Important Things in My Life Recently, while listening to WJIB, the memories sta- tion, I started looking into my mind's camera and see- ing my past. Too often most of us take life for granted and we forget that little things can matter much. It is amazing how many people can get so caught up in politics that we know everything about the fiscal cliff but very little about each other. On Thanksgiv- ing, I spent time with those I love, my family and good friends. We ate until we couldn't find any room for the great desserts we were forced to walk away from and wished we had room for one small piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream on it. I still remember younger days when the holidays were filled with so many folks we took for granted who are no longer here sharing with us today. At my recent Thanksgiving dinner, I was the elder. God, how I hate the term. I wish I was the younger like my new great nephew Chase. I always liked Paul McCartney's "When I'm 64" but I am not liking it as much at age 64. Old songs on the radio can make one both happy and sad but most of the time the memories just seem bitter- sweet. The other morning on am 740, I heard Tony Bennett singing, "Somehow once upon a time never comes again." We all are forced from time to time to make diffi- cult choices in life. Choices that impact upon us both today and tomorrow. I made many of those choices over my years. Some of them worked out greatly. Others not so! Do I wish I could find a rewind button when things are looking that great? I and most of us would probably sure would. I had many great dreams growing up and then it seemed I just put them away on some shelf and took down the box of Cheerios instead. Satisfy today and don't worry about tomorrow and tomor-row's fears. Just go into denial and your blood pressure lowers. But just momentarily, because to- morrow does come and yesterday's choices are your present realities. Who is the judge of whether or not we are successful in life? Is it outsiders, family, friends and strangers or is it our- selves? I am going to say door number five, ourselves! Christmas is soon to be here and with it more bitter- sweet memories. For many it is like opening up an old wound. We start off so free in life and then start putting chains on or handcuffing ourselves to our fears more than our hopes. Too many blame circumstances around us because it is easier to blame someone else. Most of the time the forces that stop us from exceeding are in- ternal. The greatest battle we often face is an invasion of our minds. This is humankind's worst enemy. Many of us live lives of endless and quiet des- peration. We cut short our dreams. It was Yogi Berra who once said, "It ain't over until it's over!" As silly as that may sound, it is actu- ally a truism. I look at old faded photos with lines through them as another song by the Classics Four and see a young kid who dreamed of becoming the first Italian-American mayor of Boston. The closest I got to that aspiration was as a candidate for Quincy School Committee back in 1995, a losing candidate I might add. I actually still dream, as most of us still do amid the low tides of life and aspire for more than I have settled for to date. Dreaming is the fuel of life. Without it, life would be so meaningless and empty. We all need chal- lenges to keep us awake but sometimes a little nap seems in order. I laugh when I hear all those talk show listeners calling in to their favorite radio show. These folks can ramble on about things like the impending "fiscal cliff and how bad President Obama is but can't corn- (Continued on Page 15) Boston Harborside Home Joseph A. Langone 580 Commercial St. Boston, MA 02109 617-536-4110 Augustave M. Sabia, Jr. Trevor Slauenwhite Frederick J. Wobrock Dino C. Manca Courtney A. Fitzgibbons A Service Family Affiliate of AFFS/Service Corporation International 206 Winter St., Fall River, MA 02720 Telephone 508-676-2454 J