Christmas in Ireland: Christmas Candles
On Christmas Eve most Irish families place a lighted candle in the front window. The largest front window gets the largest candle, a white, red, green, or blue candle as much as two feet tall. Many families illuminate all the windows in their homes with Christmas candles. In past eras most families fashioned holders for these candles out of turnips. Today many people buy candleholders for this purpose.
One old tradition suggests that the youngest child in the house named Mary light the candles. Many families walk about their neighborhood on Christmas Eve, admiring the sight of so many illuminated windows. Legend has it that this custom began hundreds of years ago, at a time when Ireland’s stern, English Protestant rulers forbade priests to celebrate the Catholic mass. People placed lighted candles in windows as a signal to Catholic clergy that priests would be welcome to say mass in their home.
Another legend attributes the practice to an old folk belief. According to this belief, each year on Christmas Eve Mary and Joseph once again roam the earth, reenacting their search for shelter in Bethlehem. A lighted candle acts as a beacon, drawing the Holy Family to homes where they will be warmly welcomed. Irish immigrants brought the tradition of placing a lighted candle in the window at Christmas time to other countries, including the United States.