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Candles and Religious Traditions and Symbolism
Candles are a common theme in religious celebrations and traditions. Here are a few:
In Christianity, they typically represent the light of Jesus. Votive candles are sometimes lit as an accompaniment to prayer. Candles are lit by worshippers in front of icons in Orthodox and other churches.
In the Catholic church you will find banks of votive candles, called vigil lights, that are often placed near a statue or icon of Mother Mary. These candles indicate that someone is praying about something in particular, either for themselves or on behalf of someone else. The word "votive" could also refer to a promise to pray for someone, as well as a wish or desire for a certain outcome on behalf of someone, such as recovery from an illness.
The lighting of the Paschal candle is a traditional Easter observance in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches. It is a large candle symbolic of the risen Christ. Set aside in a large candlestick near the altar, the Paschal candle is lighted from flint on the night of Holy Saturday during the Easter vigil service. All the other candles in the church are lit from this candle. The dramatic ritual of the fire service dates back at least as far as the 4th century A.D. The Paschal candle represents Christ's person, and its flame symbolizes His Resurrection as "the light of the world."
A small white candle lighted from the Paschal candle during the Baptismal liturgy and presented to the baptized person or the parent or sponsor. It is meant to honor the spiritual birth and is lit on each anniversary of the baptism.
Used as a remembrance of Christ's words: "I am the light of the world, no follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness."
Candles in Windows
The tradition of placing a lit candle in a window arises from the British persecution against the Catholic Church in Ireland. Despite this persecution, the Catholic faith kept the Irish strong. 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. They would leave their doors unlocked and place candles in the windows to signal to a priest that he was welcome and would be safe. Sometimes, a single candle would appear in several windows, or three candles in one window, one each representing Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
St. Lucia Day
In Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13 when a young girl is crowned with a ring of candles. Saint Lucia was a rich young Christian martyr who vowed her life to Christ. Her mother arranged her marriage, but for three years Lucy stalled. Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian. The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to get her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set on fire. They went out. She prophesied against her persecutors and was then executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger. The St. Lucia ceremony consists of a woman portraying Lucy, candles attached to her head, leading a procession of other women holding candles. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take her life.
The Jewish tradition of lighting candles on Friday night at sundown to bring in the Sabbath, Shabbat, and to connect with all other Jews. To do it the traditional way, you move your hands in circles - three times - over the candles - drawing in - towards you - the special sense of Shabbat. You then close your eyes and loosely cup them with your hands so your eyes are covered while you recite a special Jewish blessing.
Used during Hanukkah, meaning "dedication," lighting menorah candles commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was desecration by foreign forces. According to Jewish tradition, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Gentiles. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.
The Hanukkah menorah has nine candle holders. There are eight candles, one for each night of Hanukkah. The ninth is called the SHAMASH . The Shamash is lit first and then is used to light the other candles. The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but when the candles are lit, you light from left to right.
Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival
In Buddhism, at the start of the Lenten period, it is traditional for the devout to donate to monks, items of personal use, such as candles. This part of the tradition became the core of the Ubon Ratchathani version of the event which is now a major event both for residents and tourists. Huge candles are paraded through the town, each representing a local temple, district or other institution. The more elaborate versions are accompanied by scenes of Hindu and Buddhist mythology sculpted in wood or plaster and coated with wax.
Uses for Candles
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