The welcoming window candles

Our family customarily has decorated the house for the Christmas season on the weekend following Thanksgiving, not too early, not too late, we believe. I spent a good portion of today in this task that I love. It’s time.

Our children are grown now and have left the nest, as folks say, and so Betsy and I have cut back on our decorating. Our tree now is small and artificial, perched on a table by the sliding doors to our deck. Its colorful lights fill the room with cheer, and we love to bask in its glow as darkness arrives late in the day.

Whatever other decorating changes we might make as we age, we always will place electric candles in our windows each year at this time as a sign of welcome to travelers who might see them and feel cheered as they pass. This is important to us. Neighbors have thanked us for offering this moment of cheer to them as they drive by, particularly at the end of a difficult day.

We can thank Irish Catholics, who for many years suffered persecution, for this tradition of window candles at this time of year. During Christmas, every faithful Irish Catholic family hoped to have a priest visit their home so that they could receive the sacraments and in return 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. Suspicious British persecutors questioned the custom, and the Irish replied that the candles represent Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus and are a sign that they are welcome in this place as they search for lodging.

Irish immigrants then brought the custom with them to America, where it has become popular and widespread among many different faith traditions in our country.

For Christians, the season of Advent begins this Sunday, Dec. 3, and ends on Christmas Eve. After today, our household feels ready. The candles are in the windows. We will light them at dusk.

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