With the arrival of December, my dorm’s begun putting up Christmas decorations, including Christmas candles in the front windows. Countless of our cherished Christmas traditions, upheld even in today’s secular world, are rooted in Christianity. But the story behind the Christmas Candle is particularly special: For it is a story of heroism and love that can inspire a world deeply in need of more heroic and loving Catholics.
The Christmas Candle originated in Ireland in the late 17th – early 18th centuries, when British rulers attempted to suppress Catholicism in Ireland. Their “Penal Laws” forbade Catholics from practicing their faith and even expelled all Catholic clergy.
However, a faith so full of hope is not easily abandoned, and it kept the Irish together. Bishops and priests traveled in circuits to minister to their people in secret. During Christmastime in particular, a Catholic family — hoping to be ministered the sacraments by a priest — would place a lit candle in their front window and leave their door unlocked. It was in this way that priests knew which homes to visit. When the British authorities became suspicious, the Irish explained that it was a superstition of theirs: They lit candles and left their doors unlocked because they hoped to be visited by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
It’s a beautiful story that demonstrates the heroic, sacrificial nature of the priesthood and the courageous commitment to the Catholic faith of the Irish. And it’s because of that story that the Christmas Candle is a cherished tradition.
Today, Christmas Candles are recognized as a beautiful Christmas decoration, yes. But next time you see it, remember for what it stands: the heroism of the priesthood, and the hope and love only the Catholic faith can offer.