Our village is designed for walking and quite often my mother and I will stroll through it for a change of view. At this Christmas time of year it is illuminated by quite a spectacular display of lights. On a recent walk my mother just enjoyed the beauty. I too enjoyed the sight but in keeping with the various traditions of the season, I saw a "festival of lights".
From a catalog of faded memories I recalled an early Celtic tradition associated with new life after a dark cold winter. There is a separate memory, the Jewish "festival of lights" that remembers the purification of their temple after the dark years during which Greek-Syrians imposed their culture on the early Hebrews. The authors of Christianity adopted that symbolic purification of light to represent Jesus, "the light of the world" who was supposed to save all mankind from the darkness of death. In their attempts to spread this gospel, early missionaries 'fertilized' Celtic traditions and that encounter has evolved into the display of lights we see today.
Although specific groups continue to make valiant attempts to retain the symbolism in their "festival(s) of lights", generally it seems to have changed. The "festival of lights" I see on my walks and imagine replicated on streets throughout the westernized world, has come to symbolize the season during which we most fervently act on our belief in the ability of our god the economy to save us from the dark void we sense in our lives.