Sunday, December 14, 2014

“There are two ways of spreading light;

to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”    ~Edith Wharton

Last week, I gave you some insight into a Dutch custom for the holiday, but being Irish on my Mother's side, here is an Irish Christmas custom--the candles in the windows.  Placing candles in the windows was brought to America by the Irish immigrants, but there are stories that relate it to Colonial times also. 
In early America, homes were often miles apart. The sight of a candle in a window from a distance was a sign of "welcome" to those wishing to visit.  Can you see people doing that these days?  Better text first!

The candle was often placed in the window when a member of the family was away. The lit candle was also placed in the window as a sign of good news or as a beacon to weary travelers. Candles also represented friendship and were seen as a sign of welcome to others. 


A less charming tale relates to the British persecution against the Catholic Church in Ireland. When King Henry II invaded Ireland in 1171, persecution against the Irish began and increased the wake of the Protestant movement, especially under Elizabeth I and then Oliver Cromwell. The logic was simply this: the British conquerors were Protestant and the Irish people were Catholic; therefore, to totally subjugate the Irish people, the British had to crush their religion, and that meant crushing the Catholic Church.   Ah, religion!  You are so unforgiving at times!

During Christmas, every faithful Irish Catholic family hoped to have a priest visit their home so that they could receive the sacraments and offer him hospitality. So they would leave their doors unlocked and place candles in the windows to signal a priest that he was welcome and would be safe. Sometimes, a single candle would appear in several windows, or three candles in one window, one each representing Jesus, Mary and Joseph.     

The British persecutors became suspicious and asked purpose of this action. The faithful Irish Catholics responded, "Our doors are unlocked and candles burn in our windows at Christmas, so that our Blessed Mother Mary, St. Joseph, and Baby Jesus, looking for a place to lodge, will find their way to our homes and be welcomed with open hearts." The British considered such a display another sign of superstition and "silly popery."

So feel free to engage in some "silly popery"! 

How far that little candle throws his beams
So shines a good deed in a weary world.
                 ~William Shakespeare

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