A Single Candle

Earlier this month I wrote about the 23,000 candles lit at the Antietam National Battlefield’s Memorial Illumination each December. Today I’m writing about a single flame.

My mother’s parents always burned a bayberry candle on Christmas eve, a symbol of good luck for the coming year. My mom maintained the tradition. When I was a kid, she used a star-shaped glass candleholder. My sisters and I went to bed before the candle burned down, but when I was young, finding the molded wax in the morning was part of the fun.


The tradition dates back to colonial times.  Candles made from waxy bayberries smelled better than common tallow candles.  The tapers also burned more slowly.  Because so many berries were needed to make candles, bayberry tapers were a luxury.  Many families saved theirs to burn on Christmas or New Year’s eve.  Some may have recited this common rhyme:   “A bayberry candle burned to the socket, will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket.”  (Source unknown.)

My mom’s family has roots on the east coast going back to the 1600s. I like to wonder how many generations in the chain have kept this tradition going.

Because Scott and I often travel over the holidays, we haven’t developed any rituals of our own. My mom and her husband Tom still observe the tradition of burning a bayberry candle each December, though. We usually aren’t with them, and the candleholder isn’t the same one we used decades ago; still, I like knowing that each year, the flame is once again lit and the new year ushered in properly.

I wish you all the peace of the season and the simple joy of honoring family traditions. May a shining light lead you through the new year!

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10 Responses to “A Single Candle”

  1. Labyrinth-Living Says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful memory of childhood. and the history behind it. I wish for you a year filled with blessing, peace and joy.

  2. Judy Northrup Says:

    Amazing memory that warmed my heart. Thank you for sharing and giving a person 1200 miles away a reason to smile at 12:30 am!

  3. cookiebaker13 Says:

    I really appreciate your writing of your family traditions. Thank you and have a Happy New Year!

  4. patrice monaco Says:

    so nice. have a wonderful new year. i look forward to more of your writing.

  5. Carla Says:

    My grandmother did this as well and I still continue the tradition. I burn it in the same pewter candle holder she used that has a candle snuffer with it(yes I allow it to burn down one just never sees the snuffer any more though). I was going online to order the candles for this year and found this and it struck a lovely chord to know that others did the same.

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