Growing up in an Italian household, mom and dad brought many Italian traditions over to America. One of those traditions that has been in our household and that I continue to do is that of the Christmas Eve Vigil Candle.
When I was younger, I remember mom and I going out, usually bundled up in a coat, scarf, mittens, and boots because it was usually snowing, to look for a prayer candle to burn. When we found one, we would bring it home.
A Memorable Christmas Eve Tradition
On Christmas Eve, clad in pajamas, I would watch whatever Christmas specials were being shown on tv, and too excited to go to sleep, I would notice mom placing the candle she bought on the window sill and light it.
When I asked why we did that, she would tell me that it was a way to say that Mary and Joseph were always welcome in our home when they were looking for a place to stay that Christmas Eve many, many years ago. She would let it burn all evening and into the next day or two (for as long as it took the candle to burn completely down).
When I asked why we did that, she would tell me that it was a way to say that Mary and Joseph were always welcome in our home
As I grew older, I became more interested in the roots of this tradition so I began to do some research and what I found was interesting!
Historical roots of the "Candle in the Window"
The tradition of the Christmas candle in the window has roots in Irish Catholic persecution – during this time, Irish Catholics would place a lit candle in the window to signify their home was safe and to invite a visiting priest to say Christmas Mass.
The candle also had two meanings which helped keep the home safe - If questioned, a deeper symbolism was given as the reason: The candle remains lit in the window to welcome the Holy Family - signifying that there is “room in the inn.”
This tradition is also common in the regions of Italy where my family is from.
What was a symbol of hope in a time of deep despair continues to be a representation of hope in a time of waiting. As the night drags on, there is a light - we just need to stand ready to welcome the Holy Family.
The candle remains lit in the window to welcome the Holy Family - signifying that there is “room in the inn.”
Bring this tradition to your family
My mom is now gone but I still carry on that tradition and I am still mesmerized by that flame while looking outside the window and the glowing of the snow.
If you want to bring this tradition to your family Christmas celebrations, here are some tips!
- Use a pillar candle enclosed in glass for the safest option
- Make sure to choose a vigil candle for the longest burn times
- I prefer 100% beeswax because I love the smell, it's more natural, and it also lasts a LONG time!
Where to buy vigil candles
As far as finding a candle, a great place to check is your local parish who sometimes orders these types of candles in bulk. I've also had great success at local dollar stores who often times carry more affordable albite not-high-quality versions.
We also made a version including all the elements I love about this tradition and made from locally sourced beeswax for a longer burn time, if you are interested in that, you can find it here.
The joy is in the waiting
After you've found your candle, light it on Christmas Eve! Take some time to pray as you light the candle and, every time you see the candle, say a little prayer. It's great to celebrate the birth of our savior!