Christmas Traditions: Candles in the Window and Memories

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?



5 Responses to Christmas Traditions: Candles in the Window and Memories

  1. John Quealey says:

    Christmas as I remember it

    The week before Christmas Mom and Dad went to Ballynacally and bought raisins, currents, treacle a small bottle of whiskey and half a dozen long red candles. The shopkeeper Mrs. Daly and Miss Torpey gave something extra known as a Christmas box. This might be tea and sugr or a box of fancy biscuits. This was called bringing home the Christmas.

    On Christmas Eve Dad picked a big bundle (beart) of holly and ivy.

    He brought it in and put it on the kitchen table. We all started and broke off bits and put them behind the pictures and on the window sills. Dad got two very big turnups and cut the in half and put each half facing down on a saucer of water, then he fixed the big red candles one in the centre of each half of the turnip. We stuck in short piece of holly and ivty if it had berriies we were delighted. Once it got dark the canles were it to guide the Holy Family on thier way to Bethlehem.

    Mam had made a vcery nice cake usi ng the treacle raisins and currents.
    It was not like a Christmas cake, but it was a real treat for us. As it was during the war we did not have much tea or sugar, so granny had tea and we all had milk. We enjoyed milk and did not miss the tea. We said the rosary and we all had punch. This was hot water with sugar and a tiny drop of whiskey, we all liked it. We enjoyed this until we were confirmed and we took the bledge and could not have it anymore.

    the first mass was at nine o’clock and we usually walked it was still qauite dark in the church because they had no electricity but they lit extra candles and we thought it was magic.

    When we came back from mass Mam had put a little pile of gifts on a chair for each of us. Mam had knitted socks, gloves, jumper or a cardigan for us. Sometimes she had altered a dress for us or made a new one. One Christmas she had made a navy dress for me with red buttons and a red collar. I loved it. We appreciated everything even though we might have unpicked an old jumper belonging to Dad and Mam and knitted it up into socks, gloves or cardigans. We did not think it was old, we were delighted with it. We did not usually get toys, but one Christmas when Mam was ill Dad bought us clockwork toys at Hewsons and all are friends were coming to see them move along. We got a couple dancing, a mouse and a lady bird, and Margaret got a ball.

    On Christmas day we had roast goose with all the vegetables roasted. I have never had a feast like it. On St. Stephens day the wren boys came. They were dressed up and they sang and danced. Some groups were better than others, but we enjoyed them all.. They got some of our sweet cake and tea and money. A big group got ten shillings. Children in a small group got a shilling. On New Years morning Dad had to go and wish all the neighbots a Happy New Year. Dad had dark brown hair and it was counted lucky for a dark man to be the first to wish you a Happy New Year. We lit the candles every night until little Christmas night. This was the sixth of January.

    We were at home over the last Christmas and it was all changed. All the houses had Christmas lights and decorations, even in the garden. The houses looked magic. They had rich Christmas cake, and so many toys they could not play with them all. We enjoyed what we had.

    One Christmas stands out for me. Mary had partly knit a blue cardigan in school, Mam finished it and it fit me. Jane had made a bonnet with roses around the front, and because I loved fussy things I got it. I felt like a queen and I wore it right until I left home

    Marie I asked my cousing about Christmas in Ireland and this is waht she sent me. Her Dad was my Mothers brother he was born in 1888.

  2. Vivian says:

    Thank you both for sharing your stories. I live hearing about others’ family traditions, especially those that evoke powerful memories or thoughts through simple acts rather than excess. It’s refreshing and wonderful to read about your recollections.