Hermine Saunders: Finding joy in the celebrations of December

Well, here we are again - about to celebrate whatever it is we celebrate in December, although most of us cannot believe that 2012 is almost just a memory.

Since I am writing this article in November, I can tell you that my Christmas cactus is blooming already, my dog Anna knows that I've hidden toys and treats for whatever reason, and I'm filling the calendar with dinner dates and planning to decorate my house.

As I was thinking about this article, however, I was struck by all the meaningful dates in December.

Of course, there is Dec. 7, "a date which will live in infamy" because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Other dates are celebratory.

Many Christians will observe Advent, starting Dec. 2 this year and ending with the Christmas Eve celebration of the Christ Child. Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation, actually looking forward to the birth of Jesus as savior on Christmas and to his second coming as Lord of all creation. Over the years, some people have been swept up in the more secular celebration of Christmas as a time to give gifts to each other and to party, all the while using the biblical symbols of the Nativity, the angels, and the star in decorations and Christmas greetings.

The Jewish holiday Hanukkah, which means "dedication" in Hebrew, starts this year at sunset Dec. 8 and continues through nightfall Dec. 16 in commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C.E. This Festival of Lights celebrates the Maccabean Revolt that drove out Syrian-Greek oppressors and the miracle that kept the temple's menorah candles burning for eight days on only one day's supply of oil.

A more recent arrival on the December calendar of celebrations is Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday created in 1966 to honor family, community and African culture. Secular and not meant to replace Christmas or Hanukkah, it is a weeklong celebration of values to benefit community which starts Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

We could even celebrate the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21.

But what are we celebrating this December? More importantly, will our celebrating bring us joy?

I wrested my hefty "Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary" from its shelf to read the definitions of "joy" with a magnifying glass: vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; exultation of spirit; gladness and delight. As a verb, "joy" means to rejoice, to take pleasure in, to be glad. If our celebrating in December brings us joy, that joy can carry us into January 2013 and the cliff-hangers of the future.

In your celebrating this December, may you find joy.