Weaving family and cultural traditions into the harried and rushed holiday season is a wonderful tactic to take a pause (and perhaps a few deep breaths) to reflect the joys in spending time with family and those special to us. A common thread in many households during the holidays (and sometimes year round) is to set candles around the home and in windows.
Centuries ago, candles brought light into homes. In modern times glowing candles create mood, ambience, memories, warmth and a welcoming setting. Candles can also symbolize meaningful light in a world of darkness.
Many people set candles in their windows throughout the holidays as festive decorations. Centuries ago this tradition was started as welcome hospitality to let weary travelers passing by in the harsh weather know that they were welcome in their home. They also served as a beacon of light for family members on their way home. In addition candles in windows symbolized the memory of loved ones who had passed away, or who were not home for the holidays.
A few fun facts about holiday candles and their meanings in our country and around the world:
Denmark: Calendar candles are lit each day for 24 days before Christmas.
Sweden and Norway: Their holiday is Saint Lucia Day and the eldest girl in families wears a crown of candles during a parade. Lucia means light, and Saint Lucia is believed to represent bringing light and hope into the world.
Finland: People leave lit candles on the graves of their loved ones on Christmas Day.
Germany: One candle per week is lit for four weeks before Christmas.
Ireland: Candles in a window symbolize hospitality.
Hanukiah and Menorah During Hanukkah
According to tradition, every year from the 25th of Kislev, which is the Jewish calendar or the end of December, Jewish people all over the world celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. The word “Hanukkah” means dedication; the main religious tradition of Hanukkah is lighting the Hanukiah. It’s an eight-day holiday and the festival is observed by the kindling of the lights on a candelabrum, and one light is lit each of the eight nights on a candelabrum. The holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil.
The Hanukiah is a type of candelabra with nine candle holders. Eight candles are in a line, and the ninth candle is out of place (at a different height or in a different position on the Hanukiah). The Hanukiah represents the miracle of the oil burning for eight days instead of one. Every day of Hanukkah Jewish families get together at sunset and light the Hanukiah, one day at a time so that on the eighth day, all the candles are burning bright.
Menorah is one of the oldest symbols in Judaism, and is known as a symbol of the Jewish faith and religion. It is known as the everlasting light, which represents the menorah from original temples. It is a symbolic candelabra lit during Hanukkah, and dates back to the first temple in Jerusalem. It has seven branches of candle holders.
Some people confuse the Hanukiah and the Menorah. The difference between the Hanukiah and Menorah is that the Hanukiah is lit on the festival of Hanukkah and Menorah is not.
The Sundays of Advent are around the four weeks between Thanksgiving to Christmas. The four Advent candles represent the four weeks of Advent, have specific names and are lit in a specific order on these four Sundays. The four candles are usually placed in a wreath, three of one color (usually purple) and one of another color (usually white or pink).
Kwanzaa is an African American cultural festival, which celebrates African Americans and their ancestry from December 26th to January 1st. The central symbol of Kwanzaa is a candelabra, called a kinara, and it holds one black, three red, and three green candles. The candles are lighted in a particular order until the final day when all seven candles burn. Each candle has a special meaning.
Diwali, an ancient Hindu tradition celebrated in the United States and India, takes place in late autumn; it is also called The Festival of Lights. It’s a five-day celebration of light over darkness and notes a time to make wishes for the New Year.
Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night of the year – and in some parts of the world it’s dark almost the entire day. Candles are used to note the darkness as well as honor and celebrate the return of the sun, and the light and warmth it brings.
There are countless more reasons, customs and ways candles are used and symbolized during the holiday season. Take a few moments each day to acknowledge the traditions, memories, meanings, aromas, glows, ambiance in your holiday candles – and soak in the joy and happiness they bring into your festive season!