For some the transition from fall to winter – falling leaves, colder weather – represents a metaphoric transition from life to death. Even the roots of Halloween, which many of us celebrate this week, are often traced back to the ancient Celtic celebration of the New Year on Nov. 1. This date marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Winter was associated with darkness, cold and death.
Tragically, the reality of death is something that Church World Service confronts in all of its programs, including refugee resettlement. Refugees arrive in the U.S. year after year, day after day, by necessity. They simply cannot stay in their home country: it is a matter of life or death.
Yet strikingly, in ancient times this period of seasonal change was not a time of despair, but of hope. Time was observed as proceeding from darkness to light. For the Celts, the focus of the village’s festivities was a huge bonfire from which each family lit their hearth. This served to bond all the families of the village together. As they received the flame each person felt the sparks of new dreams for the coming year.
On Tuesday refugee clients of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, and their young children, gathered at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. While the mothers were taking their scheduled classes in English as a Second Language, cultural orientation, and job readiness, the kids (ages 0-3) went out into the community to “practice trick-or-treating.” They went around their new community being welcomed; and those who were at one time strangers quickly became friends.
Young children having fun (in this case with candy and costumes!) and feeling welcome in their community does change lives. But it is also about a two-way process of change. Local communities of faith, businesses and individuals feel called to welcome them, and do. It is a sort of light out of darkness. We at CWS bear witness to this transformation time and time again, and we honor it.
Joya Colon-Berezin, Ecumenical Relations Coordinator, Immigration and Refugee Program, CWS