A sour note in the holiday chorus is struck by claims of a “war on Christmas.” Efforts to be inclusive of diverse traditions may feel like a threat to some; after all, singing in harmony is harder than solo. But in our global community, we become aware of the richness of many traditions, and all can enjoy the common theme of light in the darkness – certainly timely in this part of the world – that is woven through many diverse religious and cultural observances at this time of the year.

In November, when the ebbing of daylight began to be noticeable, Hindu communities throughout the northern hemisphere observed Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Celebrating the triumph of good over evil, it includes thorough housecleaning and wearing of new clothes, gatherings of family and friends, and the lighting of many traditional lamps burning ghee made from clarified butter. Today traditional lamps are joined by electric lights of all kinds with festive brightness.

Also in November, members of the Baha’i Faith celebrate the birth of their prophet-founder, Baha’u’llah, whose name translates to “Glory (or Light) of God.” His teachings are of the oneness of humanity and the ongoing light of God’s revelation.

This week, from December 6th to the 14th, Jews in Maine and around the world are celebrating Hanukkah, also called Festival of Lights. It commemorates the triumph of the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C.E. against Greek occupiers who had imposed their religious practice and outlawed that of Judaism. It recalls the rededication of the temple, when one day’s ritual oil lasted the 8 days it took to prepare more with the lighting of the eight candles of the menorah, one for each night, until all eight are blazing with the warmth and light of religious freedom.

December 21 is the winter solstice, when we in the northern hemisphere will move through our furthest point from the sun, reversing the gradual shortening of our days and beginning the strengthening of the light. Ancient Norse and Celtic peoples built great bonfires to coax back the sun’s life-giving warmth, and developed rituals and traditions to celebrate the return of the light. Contemporary followers of these spiritual traditions here and abroad still celebrate solstice, or yule, with firelight and candlelight and stories about the struggle between the forces of darkness and light.

In the pagan Roman Empire, the solstice celebration became Saturnalia, honoring the sun god, and festivities filled the 12 days from solstice to the new year. The celebration included many of the elements familiar to us as Christmas, including decorations of evergreens and candle and fire light, parties and exchange of gifts with family and friends, release from work and concern for the poor.

December 25 was “baptized” to become the celebration of the birth of Jesus when Emperor Constantine declared the Roman Empire to be Christian about 300 A.D. Until that time and in much of Christian history, Jesus’ birth was not marked or celebrated, and in fact remained controversial until the 19th century because of its early pagan associations and the drunken revelry with which it was celebrated. Still, the Gospel account of John, which styles Jesus as a light coming into the darkness, ushers Christmas into the family of holidays featuring celebrations of light – candlelight (including the candles of the Advent wreath, one each week until all four, and then the Christ candle, burn brightly) and firelight and, in contemporary culture, electric light displays in bright and colorful array.

December 26 begins the seven-day observance of Kwanzaa, a contemporary celebration of African-American cultural values. It features the kinara, a special candelabrum with seven candles, each representing the light of one facet of African- American community values, lit on successive nights until all seven burn brightly with the light of strength and virtue.

Throughout human history and around the world, we are drawn to light, especially in times of great darkness. At such a time as this, can we see and appreciate the beauty and warmth of each and all? Can we spread harmony instead of discord, declare peace instead of war, and wish one another happy holidays in a chorus of languages and traditions as diverse and beautiful as all the lights themselves?

The Rev. Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as Interfaith Chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.