Since time immemorial Candles have been associated with Christmas. Churches are extensively decorated with candles on Christmas Eve and the same trend has now extended to homes as well. Christmas candles lend a touch of solemnity and in many ways nostalgia to the festivities. It is almost as though one can imagine the little shed lit with candles when baby Jesus was born all those years back.
Though no one knows how candles came to be associated with Christmas. Most historians agree that it could have been because of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, celebrated during the winter. Early Christians may have borrowed the practice of burning candles from Hanukkah and incorporated it in Christmas. One of the earliest records of candles being used at Christmas was during the Middle Ages when a large candle was used to represent the star of Bethlehem. Jesus is also referred to as the ‘light of the world’.
Christmas Candles in Christianity
In Christianity, Christmas candles are commonly used in worship both for decoration and ambiance, and as symbols that represent the light of God, or specifically the light of Christ. Candles are often placed on the altar. Votive candles may be lit as an accompaniment to prayer.
Christmas Candles were traditionally used to light up Christmas trees before the advent of electric lights. They are still, even today, commonly used to decorate Christmas trees in Denmark and other European countries. They are also used in Advent wreaths. In some parts of Ireland, it was traditional to have a Yule candle instead of a Yule Log. In Southern India, Christians often put small oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to celebrate Christmas.
Christmas Candles and The Advent Crown
Perhaps the most important role played by Christmas candles is during advent. Advent, which is Latin for ‘coming’, is the coming of Jesus in to the world. It is a period of four weeks before Christmas or from 1st December to 25th December. People fast during Advent and use it as a time of reflection.
There are two types of candles that are used to count down to Christmas Day in Advent. The first looks like a normal candle, but has the days up to Christmas Day marked down the candle. On the first of December the candle is lit and burnt down to the first line on the candle. The same is done every day and then the rest of the candle is burnt on Christmas day
An Advent Crown is another form of candles that are used to count down Advent. These are normally used in Churches rather than in people's homes. The crown is often made up of a wreath of greenery and has four candles round the outside and one in the middle or in a separate place. Sometimes a more traditional candelabra is used to display the five candles. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent; two are lit on the second Sunday and so on. Each candle has a different meaning in Christianity:
The first represents Isaiah and other prophets in the bible that predicted the coming of Jesus.
The second represents the bible.
The third represents Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The fourth represents John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, who told the people in Israel to get ready for Jesus' teaching.
The middle or separate candle is lit on Christmas Day and represents Jesus, the light of the world.