In Gloria Naylor's Mama Day, what is "candle walk?"

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belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Gloria Naylor's Mama Day is a 1988 novel about the connection between past and present. History, family, culture, and friendship are all important themes in the book.

In the novel, the people of Willow Springs participate in a ritual called Candle Walk. Every December 22nd, the people of the town walk the streets, carrying a light, and exchange gifts. In early times, the lights were candles and the gifts were homemade and intimate; in modern times, the candles have given way to lanterns, and the gifts are purchased and measured by their expense. Here, connection between the ritual of the parents and the new ritual of their children -- some of who are upset that there is no proper Christmas, but the Candle Walk instead -- is slowly eroded by the modernization of both times and people. Instead of being about community and connecting with others, Candle Walk is slowly turning into a market-based consumer holiday tradition, as some of the townsfolk see modern Christmas. In time, the ritual will die out, and not even be remembered.

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rareynolds's profile pic

rareynolds | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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"Candle Walk" is a kind of alternate Christmas holiday observed by the residents of Willow Springs. Every year, on December 22, people take to the streets carrying a light and giving gifts.

Originally, the Candle Walk was a way of providing charity to those in need: since everyone participated in Candle Walk, it was a way for families too proud to ask for charity to receive what they needed from their neighbors. The rule was that whatever was given, it had to come from the earth or be made by the person giving it.

In more recent times, the traditions of Candle Walk have eroded. People have started going out with lanterns or sparklers instead of candles, for example, or even drive around in cars rather than walk. The gifts, too, have shifted from handicrafts to store-bought items. This "Christmas-ifcation" of Candle Walk has also undermined its emphasis on helping others.

Nevertheless, there is a sense that Candle Walk will continue despite the changes. At its heart, Candle Walk is a communal celebration of freedom, a symbolic recreation of the mythic story of Mother Wade's march off the plantation with "candle held high." As long as the people of Willow Springs need to recall their past and appreciate their community, it will endure.