Unitarian Universalists recognize that the wisdom of the world’s religions inspires them, and Jewish and Christian teachings call to them in particular. In practice, that often means that UUs celebrate, or at least recognize, a lot of religious holidays from other faith traditions.
But nine years ago, one congregation in Southern California decided UUs needed their own unique religious holiday—so they created one: Luminescence.
“We celebrate a lot of other people’s holidays,” said Rick Kamlet, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Clarita. “That’s meaningful to us, but we thought we were missing the opportunity of having a holiday where we can all celebrate the things that make us strong.”
In February 2007, they celebrated the very first Luminescence, a candlelight worship service that focuses on the cycle of recognition, reflection, refocus, and renewal.
Kamlet, who was a member of the congregation’s worship team, said the group had talked often about what they felt was a need for a very UU-specific religious holiday. He said the congregation’s minister at the time, the Rev. Rick Hoyt-McDaniels, challenged the team “to work on creating a holiday of our own.”
Santa Clarita’s worship team came up with a ritual that incorporates the flaming chalice and five candles that each represent a concept: the source of light, recognition, reflection, refocus, and renewal. The lighting of each one is accompanied by a reading before each member of the congregation joins in by lighting their own candles.
They named the holiday Luminescence, Kamlet said, “because it is representative of the light being generated. We want it to be representative of the light we generate as members of the UU faith.”
The congregation typically celebrates the holiday the third Sunday of February, at a moment, Kamlet said, when the time spent in daylight is increasing gradually “and we’re looking enthusiastically toward spring coming.”
The Santa Clarita congregation has celebrated Luminescence every year since 2007. The ritual has also been presented at a Pacific Southwest District Assembly, where other congregations were able to join in. Sepulveda UU Society in northern Los Angeles has celebrated it as well.
Each time, new ideas and rituals have been introduced and refined. Now, Kamlet said, they are ready to see it introduced in more congregations. They have created a website, luminescenceholiday.org, that has suggestions for services, music (including three hymns written specifically for the holiday), readings, and children’s activities.
“If we’re successful,” Kamlet said, “it will be something that every congregation celebrates every year at about the same time in the same way. We would like it to be accepted as an annual event that every congregation celebrates and looks forward to doing.”