The Tradition of Burning a Candle in Your Window at Christmas
“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.” – Robert Alden
Candles have been a traditional part of Christmas for centuries. Even as the presents are stored under the tree and children nestle down for the night, candles are placed in windows all over the world. In this article, I thought I would explore this Christmas tradition of burning a candle in your window and explore its relevance during this wonderfully festive season.
The Origins of the Christmas Candle
Lighting a candle and placing it in one’s window is a common Christmas tradition that dates back to colonial times. The tradition grew from the Irish whose faith was outlawed by British priests attempting to repress the Irish Catholics, preventing them from practising their faith. As a result, the priests went underground, travelling and worshipping in secret. Irish Catholics began lighting candles in their windows and leaving their doors unlocked at Christmas as a sign it was safe for a priest to visit under the cover of darkness.
Although the meaning of lighting a candle may have been lost by some over the years, it is still continued by families all over the globe. The significance of lighting a candle in a window differs per person, with people lighting candles for religious reasons, remembrance, family tradition or simply as a lovely festive decoration. So, let’s explore the different reasons why people light candles in their windows.
Remembering Those Who are Away
A lit candle was often placed in the window when a family member was away or who had died to remember them, letting them know they are missed. It was also seen as a silent prayer for the safe return of the absent person and a sign that someone remained at home tending the fire and waiting. This is a touching tradition that helps families remember loved ones during the busyness of Christmas.
Welcoming Travellers from Afar
Historically, houses were situated on dark country roads and the sight of a candle burning in the window was used as a sign of “welcome” to weary travellers or those coming to visit. Throughout history, candles have been a sign of welcome to others, an extended arm of friendship and hospitality. Even bed and breakfast hosts have been known to light candles in windows to guide travellers to their door and announce there were beds available. The sense of welcome symbolised by a lit candle in the window was a practice that spread quickly to hotels, inns and homes throughout the year.
A candle lit in the window might also have been sued to send a message out into the darkness that a child had been born or a family had received a blessing from someone. The candle symbolised celebration and gratefulness.
Christmas Candles and Religion
Windows bright with candle light symbolise different religious traditions for those of various faiths. For Christians, a candle is lit to represent the Star of Bethlehem, guiding the Magi to the stable where Jesus was born. For those of Jewish faith, a menorah in the window is a Jewish custom symbolising the miracle of Chanukah (when a single jug of oil burnt for eight days). Today, a menorah in the window represents the determination of the Jewish people for not abandoning their own faith.
21st Century Candles
The tradition of burning a candle in the window has survived for centuries and is something many families around the globe continue to do. The prevailing tradition of the burning candle now survives as a sign of welcome to those in need. It alerts travellers, visitors and people passing that the home is occupied and happy to welcome anyone who knocks on their door.
Burning Candles and Fire Safety
It is important to keep your home safe during the Christmas season and there are many reasons to be cautious when placing a lit candle in your window. If you are using a real flame, be sure to burn it with caution away from flammable materials, out of reach of children and pets, and never leave it burning unattended. Thankfully, because we live in the 21st century, we have access to electric candles which a bulb in replace of a flame. Electric candles are a safe alternative to a naked flame and will keep your tradition safe.
Comment Below with Your Holiday Traditions
A lift candle in the window is still a beautifully simplistic way to light up your home, making it festive for the Christmas season. Decorating your home for Christmas is always an exciting time. If you would like some of my suggestions for decorating your sash windows for Christmas, why not check out my article here. Do you have any Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you
Francesca is the Managing Director of Sash Windows London Ltd, a family-owned and professionally managed window company providing a full range of sash window products throughout the UK. Passionate about providing high-quality, friendly, and reliable services. You can read Francesca’s full bio here.