Posts Tagged ‘bayberry candle’

A Single Candle

December 30, 2012

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!