There is no doubt that a great part of the thrill that comes with Christmas is dressing your homes with beautiful decorations. The twinkling sparkle of fairy lights, bright red poinsettias, a majestic tree and the spicy scent of candles turn your home into a haven of pure delight, welcoming love, peace and prosperity for the new year.
Lighting candles to create a warm, cosy atmosphere or infuse a particular scent in a room is a huge part of the Christmas festive spirit. However, burning candles at Christmas signifies much more than that. It has been a Christmas tradition for many centuries, representing the arrival of Jesus, ‘the light of the world,’ and sending out a message of love and everlasting joy.
Although since the medieval times candles have been lit as part of religious ceremonies, it was the Irish during the 17th-18th centuries who started the popular Christmas tradition of lighting a single candle in the windows.
The candle on the windowsill at Christmas symbolises many things in Ireland. Originally, it was a welcoming sign for persecuted Catholic priests. The British Government, between 1691 and 1778, inflicted oppressive Penal Laws, targeting Catholics in an attempt to repress their religion. Catholic priests were not allowed to practise their faith and many were ordered to leave the country.
Instead, many priests went into hiding, travelling at night, living underground, and worshipping in secret. During Christmas time, faithful Irish Catholics would, when the night fell, light a candle in the window and leave the door unlocked, as a sign it was safe for a priest to visit under the cover of darkness and find refuge in their home. When the British questioned the Irish about the meaning of the candles, they were told that they represented a light to welcome Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus as they sought shelter.
Over time, the tradition changed slightly to become a beacon of hope for any passer-by during the holiday season. The lit candle signalled to strangers that there would be food and shelter in that home should they choose to ask. It also became a prayer for hope, calling on Mary and other saints to pass by their home and bless it.
Nowadays, lighting a candle in the window on Christmas eve is still a symbol of faith for new blessings – a way of not only welcoming Jesus into the world but also an omen of prosperity and new beginnings.
All over the world, many families continue to light a candle in the window at Christmas. The meaning of the candle varies from culture to culture. Some people use candles to remember a family member who is away or has died, as a way to let them know they’re missed and loved. This is a touching tradition that helps families remember loved ones during the busyness of Christmas.
For the majority of people, lighting candles at Christmas symbolises celebration and gratitude. It can be seen as a way of combating darkness and bringing light into the world. It can be used to share feelings of optimism for the blessings that the new year will bring among neighbours and friends.
Whether you burn a candle to lift your spirits, dress your home or as a family custom, its warm light can act as a beacon to transmit feelings of comfort, peace and joy, creating a connection with those who see it.