The first dusting of snow has covered the ground. The smell of gingerbread is in the air. And there's one thing that brings the idyllic picture together perfectly: the twinkling of candles in the window.
In the days before electricity, candles were necessary for, well, being able to see anything in the dark. Once the lightbulb became a regular occurrence in most households, however, the custom of using candle light to keep from stubbing your toe on the nightstand became less necessary.
But now that strings of LED lights are available at most stores, the sight of candles in windows (yes, even the plastic battery-operated ones) might have you wondering where the tradition started.
Turns out, there are historical and symbolic traditions attached to the practice.
The History of Candles In The Window
From newborn babies to vacancies at an inn, candles in the window have long been used to signal messages to passersby. The tradition of placing a simple candle in the window during the holiday season dates back to colonial times. It has been interpreted as a beacon of hope, a sign of welcome, and a symbol of religious significance.
Candles For Cloak & Dagger Worship
This shouldn't be surprising, but religion has been a point of contention throughout pretty much all of history. In Ireland, between the mid-17th and late-18th centuries, Irish Catholics faced severe persecution from British Protestants. The British imposed their stringent Penal Laws, effectively outlawing Catholic practices and threatening violators with dire consequences.
Unable to worship freely, they decided to start a system that would sneakily communicate with other Catholics right under British noses. That system? (you guessed it) Candles!
In a daring act of rebellion, these undercover Catholics started placing lit candles in their windows at night, signaling to others in the area that it was a safe house. They would then leave their doors unlocked as an invitation to their Catholic neighbors and priests.
Upon seeing the candle, other Catholics knew they could visit the home and hold a secret mass under the inky cover of darkness. In exchange, the homeowners would offer their hospitality.
Candles In Remembrance of Loved Ones
The holidays are marketed as a time for all things merry and bright, but that's not the case for everyone. Christmas, specifically, can be exceedingly tough for many people, especially when dealing with the loss of loved ones.
Lighting candles for people who have passed holds a cultural significance that expands well outside of just Christmastime, but doing so at this time of the year can be a way to remember loved ones at a time when we're missing them the most.
The idea is that, as you light this candle, you say a prayer or send out a good thought for the person or people you are missing. While the candle burns, you're meant to use that time to reflect on the sweetest memories you shared with them as a tribute to them and their life.
So, the next time you see a candle lit in someone's window, send them good thoughts; you never know what they might be struggling with.
Candles As A Welcome
The biting cold of the holiday season, particularly in regions like the Midwest, makes the sight of a warmly lit home all the more inviting.
A candle in the window in early America stood as a symbol of welcome to weary visitors passing by. Before the rise of the urban sprawl, homes used to be built miles away from one another.
So, in colonial times, many people would place candles in their windows to signal that their homes were open and welcome havens for weary travelers. At the time, this was a perfectly acceptable (not to mention charitable) thing to do, especially during the frigid winter months.
Now, this didn't just send a signal to travelers from out of town but to neighbors as well. If you saw candles all aglow within your neighbor's home, it was most likely a good time to call on them, offer merry tidings, etc. Because, as we all well know, leaving a candle burning in an empty house is a no-no.
Candles For Christmas Celebrations
In colonial America, the tradition of placing a lit candle in the window held rich symbolism. It served as a beacon of hope during the holiday season, offering shelter and sustenance to passersby.
Beyond its practical implications, the candle carried religious undertones, symbolizing hope for blessings from Mary and other saints. It also acted as a silent prayer for the return of absent loved ones and a sign of someone waiting at home.
At times, the candle's glow announced joyous events, such as a birth or commemorated community celebrations. This tradition was later embraced by Colonial Williamsburg, where electric candles became popular due to their safety and aesthetic appeal.
Over time, the practice has evolved, with modern homes now using battery-operated and remotely controlled candles, continuing a tradition that beautifully blends history with contemporary convenience.
Candles For Hanukkah Celebrations
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a joyous holiday that commemorates the miracle of a single day's worth of oil that miraculously burned for eight days in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. A central element of this celebration is the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah, a beautiful symbol of hope, perseverance, and faith.
At the heart of the Hanukkah celebration is the menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum. Eight of these branches hold candles or oil lamps, while the central branch holds the Shamash, the "helper" candle used to light the others. The Hanukkah menorah is prominently placed in a window or a central location in the home, ensuring that its warm glow can be seen by passersby and shared with loved ones.
Placing the Hanukkah menorah in a window holds deep significance. It is a way for Jewish families to proudly and publicly display their faith and the miracles celebrated during this holiday.
Keep The Tradition Going: Get Holiday Candles Here
So, there you have it— candles in the window during the holiday season are about as festive as roasting chestnuts over an open fire or busting out some yuletide carols.
If you're still searching for gift ideas for loved ones (no judgment), be sure to check out all our exclusive Kalamazoo Candle Holiday Fragrances that are sure to keep them jolly all winter long.
Of course, while you're looking, pick out a little something special for yourself as well. 'Tis the season of gifting, after all. You may as well treat yourself, too!