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Niagara Falls
Saturday, July 20, 2024
Arch-i-text: The saga of the Christmas candle

Christmas in the Town of Niagara during the late 18th and early 19th century was absent many of the practices we follow today.

One attended church in the morning, possibly place holly or evergreen sprigs in the windows, sat down to a fine meal, and then would visit or be visited by neighbours.

It was the first of the 12 days of Christmas, which ended on Jan. 6 and, if any gifts were given, it would have been simple sweets or the like, which could just as easily be passed out on New Year’s Day as Christmas.

Parishioners may have hung simple evergreen garlands in the churc, and possibly extended that practice into their homes, but decorations were nowhere to be found.

Christmas trees were strictly a German tradition until an 1848 image of Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert’s tree was widely published, giving royal respectability to this curious “foreign” practice.

But in some windows, a candle glowed during the Christmas season, its flickering light seeming to beckon welcome as it danced through the waves and occlusions of the glass panes.

The candle in the window had its origins during the period of the Penal Laws in 17th-century Ireland. These laws, passed by Protestant England to suppress the practice of the Catholic religion, effectively made priests into hunted outlaws.

A candle in the window of a home was a signal to these fugitives that the door was unlocked and an invitation to join the family in secret Christmas prayer.

Of course, as candle-lit windows proliferated, it inevitably drew questions from the English soldiers. When asked, the Irish householder would reply that it was a welcome for Mary and Joseph to shelter on a night the Bible said there was no room in the inn.

Not only did the candle in the window become a tradition carried outward by Irish immigrants, but the story was passed on by the English soldiers and candles began to appear in the windows of homes both in Europe and North America.

So, while this is a distinct departure from the normal content of this column, I wanted to put my “candle in the window” this year. I wish that you may enjoy peace, happiness and love as you, and those around you, celebrate the holiday season!

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