With less than two weeks left of this year it is a time to look back and reflect. On December 3rd, the New York Times morning email edition began saying, “Rituals make the season meaningful for many of you.” They are correct. We have our must watch movies: “Its a Wonderful Life;” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation;” and, “A Christmas Story,” just to name a few that I will be watching again even though I know the story lines, dialogue and endings. The article enumerated traditions that many readers shared. The special cookies, parties, family gatherings, decorations, and some silly odd traditions.
In my own way I have some traditions including: Candles in my windows, setting out my bottle brush trees (many of which I leave out all year since they bring me joy – why I have no idea), my special holiday red dinnerware out and ready for a gathering, the Live-Nativity recreation on the Common in front of my home on Christmas Eve every year. And, I am sure there are some other meaningful fun things I just do without thinking. I again will soon be sharing with you in a post my “tree arrangements” around my home (now a tradition), but I just thought I would start a “new tradition” (remember I write for myself to remember, but love to share) and share with you the history of candles in windows that I published in 2019, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL REDUX that I first shared last year. Hard to decide which to give you first, but think the history article first, and then encourage you to sit back with many drinks for A CHRISTMAS CAROL REDUX. If you must, and it is alright, just scroll down for a radio play you will never forget.
THE HISTORY BEHIND CANDLES IN THE WINDOW
I share a tidbit of history each month in THE WALPOLE CLARION in my “column,” DID YOU KNOW THAT…? In the December, 2019, issue I explored the background behind placing candles in windows. Since then this post has become the top Google answer to the question “candles in windows history.,” with 22,302 views on line as of December 17, 2022 – over 10,000 just the calendar year. Below are the “candles in the windows” of my 1806 Colonial on a quintessential New England Village Common.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
… the tradition of lighting candles in the windows of homes during Christmas, dating to colonial times, was brought to America by the Irish? Candles in windows have always been considered a sign of welcome to others. In early America, when homes were often miles apart, the sight of a distant candle in a window was a sign of “welcome” to those wishing to visit.
Religious practices and persecution have a long and complicated history in Ireland. As early as 1171, King Henry II’s invasion of Ireland began persecution against the Irish. Pagan solstice celebrations were replaced by Christmas celebrations. Protestantism attempted to replace Catholicism. The British Government, between 1691 and 1778, perfected their oppressive Penal Laws, targeting Catholics in an attempt to squash the religion. Catholic priests were not allowed to practice their faith. Ordered to leave the country, the priests instead went into hiding. The Irish were forced to obey British Rule.
During Christmastime, faithful Irish Catholics would, in darkness, light a candle in the window and leave the door unlocked. This was a sign to priests it was safe to slip into their home to say Mass. In return they offered hospitality to the priest. The British, questioning the Irish about the candles, were told it was their way to welcome Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus as they sought shelter. On immigrating to the United States, the Irish brought this holiday practice with them.
The tradition of the lit candle in the window in colonial America has been interpreted in many ways. It has been seen as a beacon of hope for any passerby during the holiday season, and signaled strangers that there would be food and shelter there, should they ask. Candles also showed hope that Mary and other saints would pass by their home and bless it. The candle’s welcome was part silent prayer for the safe return of an absent person, and part sign there is someone waiting and tending the fire. Other interpretations say the candle would be sending a message – a child had been born or a family had received a blessing of some nature. Often the candles would be commemorating a community event or celebration. Inns (and now bed and breakfasts) used candles announcing rooms were available, and leading travelers to the door. The key being the sense of welcome.
CANDLE IN THE WINDOW — FENNO HOUSE c 1725 — Old Sturbridge Village, November 17, 2019
When Colonial Williamsburg was established, they were unsure how Christmas should be represented. Remember, it was not much of a holiday in colonial America. They hung colored lights on ten evergreen trees in 1934, continuing to search for decorations representative of the period. The landscape architect remembered his family’s practice of placing a candle in their Boston window in 1893. With that idea, the next year a single lighted candle was placed in the windows of the four buildings open to the public. The candles were lit from 5 to 10 PM between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Worried of fire, four janitors were paid $1.00 each to light the candles and guard against fires.
Electric candles solved the concern with fire. Colonial Williamsburg visitors liked what they saw, and wanted candles to take back home. In 1941, Williamsburg department stores sold their entire stock of 600 electric candles by Christmas Eve. Today, having candles in the windows is even easier. My candles take batteries, and are remotely controlled.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – REDUX
(Like You Have Never Heard Before)
From December 21 to 26, 2010, I attended a program – Fête de Noël: Christmas in Québec City. It was great, and the tour leader was the gentleman who taught all the tour leaders in Quebec City for their licenses. Could not get any better. Besides the history there was Christmas Eve Dinner at the Hotel Frontenac (below), and a carriage ride in the snow around the city on Christmas Day.
Heading home on Autoroute 20, the afternoon of the 26th, I was dial switching on the radio. Now, you may recall that from 2008 through 2014, I produced, as a benefit for local food shelves, my own adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Having completed performances before I left for Canada, this tale of redemption as Scrooge faced three separate ghosts, was fresh in my mind. Landing on the CBC I heard that A CHRISTMAS CAROL REDUX, narrated by Russell Thomas, was about to begin. “Now I want to hear that,” I said to myself, and it soon began with a kazoo prelude.
Now it will help if you know the basic plot before you spend 54 minutes listening to this REDUX production, but not necessary. I was soon laughing hard, tears of laughter were streaming down my cheeks, and I feared that the car seat was not waterproof in case my bladder lost control. Fortunately I saw a rest area, and pulled in, parked, and listened to the radio. I had to find a copy to share.
I found part of the show on-line about six years ago, and then forgot about it. But the thought resurfaced in November 2021, and I went searching. AND I FOUND IT. But how to share it? I enlisted son Gary, and he went to work. It took some time, but he was able to complete the task.
So, now I invite you to the party. Pour some non-dairy eggnog, or glasses of wine, get some dry underwear in case, put your feet up and turn out the lights and close your eyes. Click the audio link below Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball. But my disclaimer – the show is irreverent, often politically incorrect, raunchy at times, and hysterical – ENJOY!
And, speaking of traditions, on Christmas Eve 2020 I compiled a post of my Christmas Season Festivities and traditions going back to 2013. this summary has links to the full stories which you may also enjoy. Please click below and enjoy —
CHRISTMASES PAST and HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR, love, RAY
Merry Christmas, Ray! I loved the photo of Basse-Ville in Quebec City. Joyce and I honeymooned there and stayed in the Chateau Frontenac. First time I had French fries with mayonnaise as the condiment. I liked it. George