Monday, December 15, 2008

Making Light for the Season: Candles Never Taper Off

My dear friends are so dear. Yesterday, one wanted to know if I display candles in every window at dusk during this holy season. I do not because of technical difficulties having to do with my window sills and window treatments.

She loves them. What do they represent?

Apparently, Christmas candle lighting customs are not explained to congregants of Temple Beth Emmanuel. But then, these customs aren't routinely explained to (adult) church goers either. No joke! Every year I get asked about these traditions by baptized-at-birth Christians.

Here's a very short list of ethnic Christmas candle traditions:

Displaying candles in windows was started by 19th century Irish immigrants. These candles are supposed to be lit after praying the evening Angelus.

Lighting one red candle big enough to last the 12 days of Christmas is another Irish tradition. Children receive small colored candles that are lit from the flame of the big one during a home-based ceremony on Christmas Eve after the Angelus.

In France and England, a three-candle candelabra is lit on Christmas Eve to represent the Holy Trinity.

Slavic families keep their large Christmas candle at the center of the table. Ukrainians use a loaf of bread as the candle holder. (Probably not challah.)

They do represent the light of Christ, the promise of peace. They are not intended to light the way for Santa or grandparents bearing gifts.

Later this week, I'll have more to say about Christmas food traditions, a slew of which are listed in The Catholic Home. Hint: Fish.


  1. You can tell you live in a clergy household when...

    You're the only family in your parish whose Advent wreath candles haven't been touched yet this year. Yup, we've got four beautiful brand new candles sitting in our wreath on the dining room table. Maybe we'll light them all together on Christmas Day (after my nap)...

  2. Right! My house was barely decorated during the years I served on a parish staff. I was too tired and had over dosed on evergreen!


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