The United States is a country of many beliefs and traditions. During the December holidays, there are many ways to celebrate and decorate. Since the fireplace is usually the focal point of any get together, don’t forget to show your holiday spirit and decorate the mantle this season. With various traditions and symbolic decorating choices, it’s easy to become overwhelmed! Look to the candle, a universal symbol of light, hope and reflection for all holiday celebrations.
Without a doubt, Christmas is the most commercialized holiday in the U.S., but it is based upon deep Christian ideals and principles. From the traditional colors of red/green, to the shape of the holiday wreath, the reasons behind Christmas decorations are steeped in symbolism.
Below is a list of what each decorative element is meant to represent when adorned around the home and or office:
- Star – the star of Bethlehem and the shining hope of humanity
- Red – Christ’s blood and his sacrifice for human sin
- Greenery – life during winter, showing everlasting light and life
- Bells – announce the birth of Christ and the beginning of the season
- Bows – we are all tied together in bonds of goodwill
- Wreath – circle represents never-ending love and rebirth
- Candle – light from the star of Bethlehem
When adorning a fireplace mantle with any of these traditional Christmas decorations, there is one symbol that is embraced by all faiths, the eternal, hopeful glow of a candle.
Universal Light of Candles
Christian use candles to note the four weeks of Advent during the Christmas season. In some churches, four purple candles, one for each week in Advent, are used with one larger white candle in the middle as the Christ candle. Other churches prefer three purple or blue candles with one candle being rose or pink, to represent joy. However, other holidays outside of Christianity look to candles as the focal point of decoration and celebration as well.
During the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, eight candles are symbolically lighted in a Menorah (Hebrew for lamp) over an eight-day period to celebrate the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E. Often referred to as The Festival of Lights, the oil used to light the menorah during the re-dedication burned for eight days, one day longer than the usual seven days. This miracle was the catalyst for the creation of the annual celebration of Hanukkah.
Although the candles are usually blue, white and/or silver (reflecting the colors found in the Israeli flag), there is no set requirement for color. It is more important to light them in a particular order.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 to help African Americans reconnect with African heritage. Just like Hanukkah, candles are a focal point of this seven day celebration. These candles are placed in a Kinara (Swahili for candle holder). Each candle symbolizes one of the seven principles of African heritage:
- Collective work and responsibility
- Collective economics
The colors of the candles are very meaningful. Three colors are used; red, black and green. The three red candles on the right are for the struggle, the middle candle is black for the people and the three candles on the left are green for future and hope.
Whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, don’t forget to break out the decorations for a festive, but meaningful gathering around a roaring wood burning fire this year. Take time to snuggle close to loved ones to reflect on the past year and make wishes for the hopes and dreams for the upcoming year! However, before you light your holiday yule log and/or candles, make safety a priority! Never leave fire unattended, and always make sure flammable decorations (e.g. dried-out greenery, paper) are at a safe distance.
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