Light, Empathy, and the Spirit of the holidays

Light, Empathy, and the Spirit of the holidays
By Pilar Ortega, MD

Las Navidades, Christmas time, the Holiday Season… Nochebuena, Nochevieja, los Reyes Magos… There is so much to celebrate, and many of us, as Latinos in the United States, were born into—or have gradually incorporated—family or community traditions that are multicultural and often extend far beyond.

In light of our intrinsic multiculturalism, this year, I would like to declare the spirit of the season to be respect and empathy.

My children were recently in a holiday event at their school, where seven different cultural groups presented a short play about their holiday traditions. (In fact, I missed a MOLA conference call to watch their performances.) The children’s presentations were varied in the languages that were spoken, the melodies of the songs, the instruments they played, and in doing so, they each shone a light on what we should all be focusing on. It should be much more about supporting each other and joining together in love and kindness – The children shared the light of the crescent moon of the Muslim celebration of the Eid, the light of the diyas (oil-filled lamps) of the Indian Diwali, the light of the seven principles of Kwanzaa that represent the African American community, the light of the Jewish menorah in celebration of Hanukkah, or the light of the star that for Christians marked the birth of Jesus and lit the way for the three kings.

Los Reyes Magos is widely celebrated in Latin America, Spain and many other countries throughout the world on January 6th. In Chicago, an annual parade usually takes place in our very own Humboldt Park neighborhood!

Photo credit: DNAinfo/Quinn Ford

Los Reyes Magos, or the Three Kings, is a celebration of the Magi, three wise men from diverse places in the world who spotted the same light in the sky — a bright star–and followed it. They took with them their most special gifts, and all three reached the same place to find the newborn baby Jesus. The special light showed these three different people just how much we all have in common when we share our gifts and love with others.

Yet it is not enough to just learn about and respect something new or a different belief from our own, but truly to feel empathy—to imagine and let yourself feel what it is like to be in the shoes of another. To have the courage to incorporate something of theirs into ourselves. That is the power and value of a vivid imagination, and something at which our children are often better than we are.

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