This is the fourth article in the series ‘10 Things to Do with Your Family This Christmas Season.’
When I was about nine years old my family took a trip to New England. One of the most memorable moments happened while driving through an old neighborhood at night. Almost without exception all of the homes displayed candles in their windows. I’ll never forget the welcome it conveyed, how it drew us in, the warm light on the streets, the glow coming from each window.
The tradition of placing Christmas candles in windows dates from the beginning of Christianity.
Jesus Christ is our light and his coming is described as a dawn of light on the horizon of a darkened world. Matthew 4:16 says, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” This light has a twofold purpose. It exposes the painful ugliness of sin and at the same time is the source of all that is beautiful and glorious. Jesus, the radiance of the Father, comes to make all things new and fill the whole earth with His glory, casting out the sons of wickedness and beautifying the sons of light. God designed the world from the beginning to be illumined by the all-consuming joy and light of Christ and all of creation gasps with wonder at His arrival. The wicked cringe in fear but those who have been cleansed by the blood of our Savior and wear His righteousness lift their faces with joy to catch its rays.
Revelation 21:23 says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Drawing on this symbolism, early Christians lit a large candle on Christmas Eve symbolizing Christ, the light of the world. It burned throughout the night marking the nativity, lighting the way for Mary and Joseph. From this tradition, candles in the windows gradually became a symbol of hospitality. Almost every country in the Western World has their legend of a kind couple or old friar who put candles in their windows in the winter time to light the way for weary travelers. By the Colonial Era, a candle in the window at any time of year became synonymous with “welcome” for strangers much in the same way as a pineapple. But the tradition never lost it’s original meaning. Carolers across the centuries remind us:
Then be ye glad, good people,
This night of all the year,
And light ye up your candles:
For His Star it shineth clear.
In the smaller latitudes, where daylight dims at 3:30 in the afternoon during the winter, it is especially meaningful to display candles in our windows around Christmas time. It serves as a daily reminder of the coming of our Savior who calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light and to welcome others into our home and tell them of the salvation wrought for us.