One of my favorite Christmas traditions is placing candles in the windows of our home. I still use some triple candles used years ago to light-up the Sweeney home on St. James Street. While the white light is my preference, my mother preferred the soft glow of amber in her windows. Growing up as the oldest of five, many of the decorating chores fell to me – candles in the window, decorating the fireplace mantle, creating a wrapped-box Christmas gift motif on the front door, helping set-up the illuminated manger nestled in the front yard shrubbery. Bill and I celebrated our first Christmas together was just days after our wedding in 1967. It was a hectic time but a thoughtful shower gift of Christmas tree decorations and a stand meant we just needed a tree. Bill spent the outrageous sum of $5 for a beautiful tree from Danas Market on Andover Street – it was their last one! Over the years we’ve collected many ornaments in our travels and searching never missing a perusal in those special Christmas shops. Alas, this year they are still stored as we have downsized to a smaller table-top tree – it glows with white lights and some small gold balls. We have a second small tree that glows with lights and miniature Waterford ornaments that speaks of our Irish heritage and a reminder of the special significance of a light in the window in the homes in Ireland.
The candle in the window at Christmas symbolizes many things in Ireland. It’s still a favorite traditional Irish Christmas decoration, harkening back to that ancient Christmas Eve when Mary and Joseph could find no shelter. It is a symbol of Irish hospitality – a way of welcoming Mary and Joseph…and any travelers who might happen to pass by looking for a warm place to stay.
In the days when it was illegal and even dangerous to practice the Catholic faith in Ireland because of the oppressive Penal Laws, the candles seen in the windows of Irish homes at Christmas also signaled traveling priests that this was a home where they would be welcome and where they could safely conduct the traditional Irish Catholic Christmas Mass.
The words from the “Kerry Christmas Carol” give a senses of the roots of this old Irish tradition”:
Don’t blow the tall white candle out
But leave it burning bright,
So that they’ll know they’re welcome
here This holy Christmas night!
What are your family, faith and ethnic traditions?