The Public Face of Christmas

Text by Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society, Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum, Bar Harbor Fire Department, Oakfield Historical Society, Presque Isle Fire Department, Presque Isle Historical Society, Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum, and Stockholm Historical Society

Letter carriers with bags and trucks bulging with holiday cards and gifts, decorated trees and wreaths, and collections of toys, clothing, food and other gifts for the needy are only a few of the prevalent signs of the Christmas season, signs that are tangential to the religious meanings of the Christian holiday.

Also prominent is the profusion of lights -- on homes, on utility poles, on trees, on public buildings, and shining through windows from inside many structures.

The lights are associated both with Christmas and Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday also known as the "Festival of Lights," which commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. The Maccabees wanted to light the menorah, but only had enough oil to last for one day. However, the oil lasted for eight days. In observance of that miracle, Jews light the menorah for eight days.

But the lights also mark the Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and, hence, a time for adding light and observing the "return" of the light as days lengthen and the night shortens.

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