On Re­flec­tion

The People's Friend - - Nature - by Mag­gie In­gall.

THE days are at their short­est in De­cem­ber, and the nights at their long­est. So it’s no won­der that the sight of a lit can­dle is al­ways cheer­ing at this time of year.

I was re­minded of this when watch­ing my young grand­son open the next win­dow in his Ad­vent cal­en­dar. As well as the ea­gerly awaited (and quickly de­voured) piece of choco­late, there was a pic­ture: a fat red can­dle burn­ing brightly on a sill.

“Why do we have can­dles at Christ­mas, Grandma?” Jonathan asked.

We de­cided to look it up to­gether.

The first thing we dis­cov­ered was that the use of can­dles for fes­ti­vals is cer­tainly not lim­ited to the Chris­tian faith.

The five-day Hindu fes­ti­val of Di­wali is cel­e­brated as au­tumn ends and win­ter be­gins. Houses are cleaned and dec­o­rated, best clothes are put on, and can­dles, lamps and lanterns are lit in cel­e­bra­tion.

The Jewish fes­ti­val of Hanukkah is also known as a fes­ti­val of lights, and comes a lit­tle later in the year.

This time, nine can­dles are placed in a spe­cial can­de­labrum and lit one by one over a pe­riod of eight days.

It marks the reded­i­ca­tion of the Tem­ple of Jerusalem, when the only small jar of oil avail­able mirac­u­lously kept the tem­ple lamp lit.

Nordic coun­tries of­ten cel­e­brate the win­ter sol­stice with can­dles. St Lu­cia’s Day is marked on De­cem­ber 13, when chil­dren pa­rade through the streets wear­ing wreathes of lin­gonberry branches and car­ry­ing can­dles.

In Bri­tain, we of course as­so­ciate the use of can­dles with Christ­mas. We start with Ad­vent can­dles, which are first lit on De­cem­ber 1, and burned down in small sec­tions un­til the big day is reached.

My own par­tic­u­lar favourite use of can­dles, how­ever, comes in the Christ­in­gle ser­vice, of­ten held close to Christ­mas Eve.

The ser­vice sees young­sters given the gift of an or­ange tied round with a red rib­bon. The or­ange has a can­dle pushed into its cen­tre, and is cov­ered in skew­ers of sweets or dried fruits.

Jonathan, who’d taken part in such ser­vices, glee­fully ex­plained why.

“The or­ange,” he said, “is meant to be the world. The sweets and fruit are meant to be all the good things that the world gives us. The red rib­bon is the blood of Christ, and the can­dle is Je­sus be­ing born. Bring­ing light into the world, you see?”

So Christ­mas can­dles are not just a cosy ad­junct to a win­ter fes­ti­val. They re­mind us of the time when light pierced the dark­ness so clearly and strongly that it has shone down through cen­turies ever since.

May it for ever bring us com­fort and courage, light­ing our path safely through the world. ■

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