Candles and Christmas

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The image of Jesus as the light of the world and the mid-winter longing for the return of the sun has led to the candle being associated inextricably with Christmas. This can be seen in church ceremonies such as Candlemas, Christingle or candle-lit carol services and in numerous home devotions. In countries such as Ireland it is the custom to place a candle in the window during the Christmas season; in eastern Europe a large candle is placed in the centre of the table, sometimes stuck in a loaf of bread. In Germany the Advent wreath, the Lichstock or Christmas pyramid and Christmas tree all employ candles while in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico luminaria and farolitas light up the night. Australians flock in their hundreds of thousands to Carols by Candlelight while Filipinos place candles in their parols.

 A beautiful custom is carried on in the Auvergne on Christmas eve. A candle is lit by the oldest member of the family and used to make the sign of the cross. It is then extinguished and passed on to the eldest son who does the same and who then passes the candle to his wife, and so on. When the candle finally reaches the youngest, it is lit and placed in the middle of the table, a signal for the feast to begin. In Norway the thick Christmas candle must burn all night through on Christmas Eve or, it is believed, a family member will die that year. Gouda, the centre of Dutch candle industry, turns off all electrical lights in the city centre on Christmas Eve while the mayor, by candle-light, reads the Nativity story to the crowd.

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