Saturday, 3 December 2022


Welcome dear friends back to the Hypnogoria Old-time Yuletide Advent Calendar! Today in our festive A to Z we are opening the third door and discovering what C is for! 

Well, to follow on nicely from yesterday’s lore, C stands for candle! Now as a midwinter festival, lights and indeed fires have always been part of the various traditions of the winter solstice, with the idea being that lights, flames and lanterns symbolised and indeed celebrated the return of the sun after the shortest day.  During the Roman Saturnalia,  candles were originally offerings to the god Saturn, and later became a popular gift item exchanged among friends and households. 

And the humble candle has a special place in the iconography of Christmas too. To begin with the original illuminations for our Christmas trees, Kissing Boughs and other decorations were candles. According to legend, it was the Protestant founder Martin Luther who first bedecked a tree with candles, and thus invented the Christmas Tree. The story goes that he was so struck by the sight of a frosted fir tree glittering in the starlight, he felt should recreate it at home And so, he decking a fir tree with candles to symbolise the heavens for which Christ descended. Given that candles were the main source of lighting for centuries, how much truth is in that tale is open to question, but it is a nice story.  

Thankfully in more recent years, candles on Christmas trees have been replaced with safer electric lights, drastically cutting down the number of singed trees, incinerated presents and house fires over the festive period. However special candles for Christmas still remain. 

There are modern Advent candles which are marked lengthways with the days leading to Christmas, and you light the candle until it burns down the next day’s marker. These are in fact a descendant of an older custom - the Christmas Candle. These were large candles - reportedly over a half a yard in length -  made and sold to be lit in celebration over Yuletide. The fancier ones were made of beeswax and they were often decorated with holly and ivy and the like. In Victorian times, grocers and other businesses would give them out in December as a gift for valued regular clients and customers. 

It seems there were several different traditions for when to light one's Christmas candle. First was to follow the tradition of crowns and candles in the church, and light the special candle every Sunday in Advent. However in several parts of the British Isles, mainly Yorkshire, Cumberland, Lincolnshire, plus parts of Northumberland, it was customary for a family to light their Christmas candle at supper on Christmas Eve when all were gathered at the table. To light it before everyone was seated, or to snuff it out before the meal was over, was to invite bad luck upon the household. Many families would save the stub of the candle in order to light the following year’s Christmas candle., thus maintaining a continuity of good fortune. 

A related superstition stated that the Christmas candle should be left to burn until Christmas morning, and to snuff it out sooner would bring bad luck… However you were of course vastly increasing the  risk of burning your house down - never leave a lit candle, Christmas or otherwise,  unattended folks!

Alternatively another tradition held that the Christmas candle was to be burnt over the Twelve Days of Christmas. But when exactly were they? Well that is a tale for another day and another door! 


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