Candles have been used to celebrate Christmas and other holidays that occur around the same time for centuries. Elements of these traditions have combined to form our modern Christmas candle customs.
Source of Light
During the Roman festival of Saturnalia--which began two centuries before the birth of Christ--candles were lit and given as gifts to ward off darkness during the shortest days of the year. The festival was originally celebrated on December 17, but it evolved into a week of festivities.
The Druid culture in the British Isles used candles and yule logs to recreate the power of the sun and symbolize its rebirth during their winter solstice celebrations in December.
Spread of Christianity
As Christianity spread, candles were incorporated into Christian holidays, most notably Christmas. Candles were often placed in windows to symbolically guide the Christ Child.
Advent wreaths include four candles to symbolize the four weeks of advent. The lit advent candles represent the light of Christ.
Candles were once used to light Christmas trees, but they have been replaced by electric lights, a safer alternative.
- Celebrating with Christmas Candles
- Advent Wreath Packed with Symbolism
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About this Author
Kim Kenney graduated from Wells College with a BA in American History and a minor in Creative Writing. She earned her MA in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. She is the Curator of the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, a published author and professional writer. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Canton Repository and The Public Historian.