by Mary Scot
In many celebrations, candles are used. They may represent the years on a birthday cake, the number of days that the oil lasted in the temple of Jerusalem, or the coming of Christmas. In each of these traditions, the candle maintains its place as an important part of the rituals that are observed.
Did you know that Martin Luther is given credit for placing candles on the evergreen? He noticed the starlight bouncing off of the boughs of an evergreen tree. The affect was so inspiring that he wanted to share it with his children. Luther took a branch of an evergreen home with him and placed candles on it to create the sparkling lights of the stars. Of course, we no longer place candles on our Christmas trees these days; however, candles are still widely used on Advent wreaths to celebrate the four weeks before Christmas. Another holiday use of candles is seen when the sidewalks are lined with Holiday luminaries, a Mexican Christmas tradition.
Birthdays are celebrated in many different ways. In Ireland, “Birthday Bumps” are given. The child is held upside while his head is bumped on the floor for each year. Of course, there is the traditional one extra bump for good luck. Historians credit the Germans for the idea of the children’s birthday party – or kinderfeste as they call it. Needless to say, candles play a very traditional role on birthdays. Birthday cakes are adorned with everything from one to many candles that vary from the very simple to the very ornate to commemorate a milestone birthday.
Traditionally, women have lit Shabbat candles. Both men and women now participate in, and enjoy, this practice. Young children especially love to be present for this moment when the candles are lit at sunset to begin the Sabbath. Havdalah brings the Sabbath to a close in the same way it began — with light. For this ritual, one braided candle is used instead of two separate candles. The braided candles symbolize the two separate flames becoming one through the unifying force of Shabbat.
There can’t be a wedding without candles. Again, the use of candles varies as much as weddings do. The ceremony may include the lighting of a unity candle. At the reception, candles may adorn the tables. Brides receive candles for gifts or the couple may choose to give a candle arrangement to each of the attendants as a way of thanking them for participating in their wedding. Candles may also be commemorative and be engraved with the bride and grooms names and date of the wedding.
Whether you are lighting candles to celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukah, it is important to remember safety. For example, make sure that you buy a sturdy, fire-safe menorah and place it on a steady table where there is nothing too close to the flame(s). Whatever you are using the candles for a celebration or for an evening meal, never leave a candle unattended.