Share Some Light
Candles and Christmas lights are one of the staples when it comes to Christmas decorations. Writer, Emma Brereton, delves deeper into the history of the advent candle and the prevalence of light at the most special time of the year
There are many different reasons why candles are associated with Christmas but finding out how they first became connected is a mystery to this day.
One of the earliest recordings of their use was during ancient winter solstice celebrations as a way of remembering that spring would come soon. But it wasn’t until the middle ages that candles were used to represent the star of Bethlehem from the Christmas story during religious celebrations and this may have sparked the custom of advent candles, wreaths and the Christingle service.
The advent candle is usually the size of a taper candle. Long and slim it fits nicely into a candlestick and is usually surrounded by evergreens. It is marked with the days of advent one to 24 and is usually white.
The custom to have an advent candle in a household that is burnt gradually each day to show the passing days up to Christmas started in the 1700’s in Germany. The tradition then developed into the Christingle ceremony, that Christian children partake in each year, where a small taper candle is inserted into a decorated orange.
It is believed that the idea of Christingles, meaning little Christ Child, came from a Moravian Church in Germany in 1747 where the minister gave all of the children a lighted candle with a red ribbon around it.
The orange represents the world, the candle stands tall and gives light in the dark like God’s love and the red ribbon that goes all around the orange, symbolises the blood Jesus shed when he died. The orange is also adorned with four sticks to show North, South, East and West, as well as the four seasons with the fruits, and cloves representing the fruits of the earth.
Today, the service is usually held on the Sunday before Christmas or on Christmas Eve, but it wasn’t until 1968 that the tradition made its way to the United Kingdom. It is now one of the most popular services and is often used as a way to raise money for children’s charities.
The Advent wreath is a longstanding part of Catholic Christmas tradition and again it is believed to have started in Germany as part of winter solstice celebrations. In Scandanavia, during winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn the earth back toward the sun to lengthen days and restore warmth.
By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans took part in more formal practices surrounding the wreath. Like the Christingle, the Advent Wreath displays a lot of symbolism. The evergreens show continuous life and the laurels signify victory over persecution and suffering. Pine, holly and yew show immortality whilst cedar represents strength and healing.
Holly is also used to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore during the crucifixion, whilst the circular shape symbolises the eternity of God.
The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Each week one candle is lit signifying one thousand years each to sum the 4,000 years from the creation of Adam and Eve until the birth of Jesus.
One of the best ways to add some soft lighting into your home this Christmas is with a candle, whether it’s ornate or scented, it’s a lovely soft touch to any room. There are some fantastic places in Lancashire where you can buy hand made high quality candles such as The Melting Room in Chorley, Melt in Waddington, Burning Wish in Preston and The Wax House in Blackpool.
For well known brands of candle such as Woodwick and Yankee candles, Home and Fragrance in St George’s shopping centre is a stockist and you can find the brand Root candles at Barton Grange.
To this day, candles are used all over the world at this time of year. In some parts of Ireland, it has been more traditional to have a Yule Candle rather than a log. In Southern India, Christians often put an oil lamp on the flat roofs of their home to celebrate the time of year and in China, paper lanterns are used to decorate Christmas trees.
Whichever way you bring light into your home this year, it’s interesting to remember the origins of Christmas and how today’s traditions began.