On the last day of classes, the Mills College Chapel was nearly full of people celebrating the Festival of Light and Dark, an annual campus tradition.
Members of the Mills community gathered for two hours Dec. 7 to honor sacred and cultural rituals of the winter season. This year’s event featured songs, performances and presentations from individuals and members of student organizations representing different religious and cultural groups.
This year graduates, undergraduates and alums participated, said Reverend Erika Macs, who as Director of Spiritual and Religious Life coordinated the event.
Before the ceremony began, children and adults were invited to participate in an hour of holiday crafts and games. Students and parents from the Children’s School, as well as several Mills students, painted Christmas ornaments, colored and made paper lanterns. Members of the Jewish Student Union also lead a game of Dreidel.
The ceremony opened with a song entitled “Dark of Winter,” preformed by senior Kelsey Lindquist. Lindquist sang as representatives from campus clubs participated in a candle lighting ritual. Following the song, Macs shared some opening remarks.
“The festival comes at an interesting time of the year – on the evening of the last days of classes,” said Macs. “This is our moment to breathe and reflect and be together.”
Participants were then given a few moments to share aspects of their own religious or cultural winter celebrations with all who had gathered. Some groups read poetry, while others shared traditional songs, stories and dances.
Members of the Muslim Student Association read Sufi poetry written by Rumi and Rabia, accompanied by a recording of soft flute music playing in the background.
“The poems have to do with incorporating themes of light and darkness into one practice,” said junior Weyam Ghadbian, member of MSA and Chapel Program and Administrative Assistant.
First-year Asha Richardson, a member of the Black Women’s Collective, also read poetry. Richardson preformed two poems she wrote about Kwanzaa, a celebration that honors African heritage and traditions.
“We need to celebrate Kwanzaa to honor ourselves and celebrate our culture,” said Richardson.
The Jewish Student Union opted to share an alternative story of Hanukkah and resistance, through the story of a woman named Judith. Each member took turns telling the story of how Judith pretended to surrender to an enemy general who was launching an attack on her village. According to the story, she waited until the general fell asleep and then beheaded him. Because of Judith’s courage, her people were then able to fight back and save their village.
“Since this is Mills, we decided we would tell a feminist story,” explained sophomore Shoshana Burda.
The ceremony ended with a lively traditional Aztec dance, performed by members of Mujeres Unidas and family members and friends. Dancers dressed in traditional costumes with colorful headdresses and danced to the beat of two drums.
Other participants in the event included a traditional Hawai’ian chant by Cierra Cummings, a member of the Native American Sisterhood Alliance. , poetry and stories from Workers of Faith, the traditional story of the Holly King and the Oak shared by KingMackenzie Bean of the Mills Pagan Alliance and graduate student Tako Oda, who preformed a song.
Immediately following the ceremony was a candle-lit walk to President Janet Holmgren’s home for cookies and light snacks.
Many of those who came to observe the festival, such as senior Marit Coyman-Myklebust, enjoyed the presentations.
“I thought it was interesting and I like that it covered all religions, faiths and cultures,” said Coyman-Myklebust. “I’d always heard how good it was and figured it was my last opportunity to come. I was not disappointed.”