The warm, flickering light of a candle has long been associated with feelings of peace, spirituality and blessings during the holiday season. From Hanukkah’s menorah candles to candles on the Advent wreath, candles invoke a special reflective spirit and connect us to traditions and loved ones near and far.
Candles in the Darkness
The winter holiday season coincides with the longest nights of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. For many faiths and cultures, this is a powerful metaphor – light shining in the darkness, keeping traditions alive even as the light wanes. Candles remind us of inner light and hope when the outside world grows cold and barren. Lighting candles can be a symbolic way to summon back the sun and longtime beliefs.
Holiday candles also represent togetherness and community. Sitting together around lit candles unites us with those celebrating the same traditions, even if we’re geographically apart. The soft glow invites us into contemplation and connection. The shared experience brings inner joy and peace.
Candles in Different Holiday Traditions
The significance of candles differs between winter holiday traditions, but many common threads emerge. Here are some of the ways candles enhance major holiday celebrations:
Hanukkah – The menorah’s candles celebrate the miracle of oil burning for 8 nights and guide Jews closer to God. Lighting candles each night reminds families to keep their faith alive.
Advent – Lighting candles on the Advent wreath each Sunday in December symbolizes Jesus Christ as the light of the world. The growing light lifts believers’ spirits as they wait for Christmas.
St. Lucia Day – A girl dressed as St. Lucia wears a wreath of candles on her head while serving pastries on December 13th. The candlelight procession predicts the return of the sun on the winter solstice.
Kwanzaa – The kinara holder’s seven candles represent the Seven Principles of African heritage and black culture, which Kwanzaa celebrates. The candles connect African Americans to their roots.
Winter Solstice – Pagans, Wiccans and many cultures light candles on the darkest night of the year. The candles welcome back light and renewal to the world, signaling nature’s rebirth.
Yule – Wiccans burn a Yule log with a piece saved to light next year’s log, spreading light and blessings into the future year. Candles also represent the rebirth of the sun.
Ancient Traditions and Rituals
The use of candles in winter celebrations goes back many centuries and draws from many spiritual belief systems. Here are some examples:
Ancient Roman pagans lit candles and torches to mark the solstice, casting out evil spirits as light triumphed over darkness.
Druids honored the Celtic god Lugh at Lughnasadh festivals with huge sacred bonfires, merging his solar energy with the harvest.
Yule candles arose from Norse and Germanic pagans celebrating the winter solstice and longing for the sun’s renewal on the longest night of the year.
Ancient Egyptians lit bonfires, torches, candles and oil lamps during the winter solstice festival dedicated to Osiris, god of death and resurrection.
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah uses candles to recall the rededication of the Second Temple when oil lamps miraculously burned for eight days.
Romans decorated their homes with candles and greenery during the pagan holiday Saturnalia, which Christmas absorbed some traditions from.
No matter their origin, these rituals all reflect the universal human connection to the cycles of nature and the overarching quest for inner light in times of outer darkness.
The Simple Joy of a Lit Candle
While holidays highlight the symbolic importance of candles, their magic can be tapped into all year long. In everyday moments of solitude, lighting a candle can establish a feeling of tranquility. The warm glow emanates metaphysical properties that foster spiritual reflection.
Beyond religious and spiritual meaning, candles also represent hope, growth, wisdom, creativity, memories, endings and new beginnings. Lighting a candle can mark any occasion that holds personal significance. The dancing flame contains energy that infuses these events with deeper meaning.
So as the holiday season approaches, take time to kindle candles in both casual and ritual settings. Welcome candlelight into evening meals, quiet moments before bed, spiritual ceremonies or while relaxing with a warm cup of tea. However you choose to bask in their glow, let the flickering flames fill you with reflection, hope and joyful expectation. May the candles of the winter holidays guide your heart to greater peace and purpose.