'Finding light and optimism in Chanukah, Diwali and Christmas'

A lit menorah is reflected in the fountain water during the lighting up ceremony for the Christmas T

A Chanukiah and a Christmas tree share space in Trafalgar Square - Credit: PA

This week I’ve been looking for light. Hampstead Heath is dark, Primrose Hill is dank and the days are dull. The start of December with its short days can be depressing and this year, with the threat of more lockdown, and Christmas gatherings, trips abroad and festivities back in the balance, is no exception. I yearn for warmth, positive stories and to be uplifted. Like so many others, I seek light.

Chanukah the Jewish festival of light which has just finished (preceded by Diwali another festival of light) celebrates religious freedom based on the historical story of the Maccabees.

During Chanukah we marked Red Wednesday, a day of reflection and action supporting people who are persecuted for their faith identity all around the world now, literally thousands of years later.

From Uyghur Muslims in China, Bahai women in Iran, Christians in Pakistan, or Hazara people in Afghanistan, oppression based on religion or identity affects millions. Sadly, the intolerance which underpins this persecution exists even here in the UK, a country known for its democracy, human rights and respect for diversity.

Laura Marks OBE

Laura Marks yearns to be uplifted - Credit: Laura Marks

This year Chanukiahs (eight-pronged candlesticks) seemed to have sprung up all over the area – from Finchley Road, to Hampstead ponds, all out-glistened by the giant blue Chanukiah at Golders Green station. Each one reminds us of the importance of being able to celebrate our difference.

As the Chanukiahs come down, they are replaced by Christmas trees, sparkling and glittering through the dark winter nights. Our high streets are illuminated, shop windows glow and Kenwood House, like other iconic buildings, sparkles. Oxford Street and central London look magnificent reminding me as I crossed Westminster bridge last week, that in the midst of the uncertainty this year, there is still a place for optimism.

This December, as we celebrate the season of light and banish the deep winter darkness, our shining streets and landmarks remind me just how lucky we are in the UK to be able to live our diverse and our connected lives. And, if that still doesn’t cheer me up, I can simply look forward to the longer, lighter days of spring.

Laura Marks OBE is founder of Mitzvah Day, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and an interfaith consultant – commongood.uk.com