Candles have been a symbol of enlightenment for many centuries. They appear in rituals of every culture, and are present in temples of different religions around the altars. Christmas candles light up our homes and places of worship throughout the holidays.
Lightning a candle when praying is a common practice. However, many people don’t know why they are associated with religious rites and moments of introspection. Here is a brief explanation about the meaning of the candles and their role in the Christmas decoration.
Christmas Decoration – the Role of the Candles
In the past, when there was no electricity, Christmas trees were decorated with candles around the balls. The pine as a Christmas symbol is fairly recent (around three-hundred years old.) The idea of lights that enlighten the path to salvation (or nirvana, baqa’, paradise, samadhi, etc; in the vocabulary of other religions) dates back to centuries before Jesus. It represents the spiritual light that emerges from the darkness.
The wax used to shape the candle is a representation of the human body – it comes in many colors, sizes, forms, and styles. Fire, in all religions, is associated to the spirit, or the vital principle that animates the body.
Ancient traditions taught us that when humans, tired of the inherent suffering of the physical existence, started to dedicate their lives to be released from the rebirth cycle. They embraced a return to their original condition (immortal, perfect, joyful), and a light inside them was lit.
The ancient wisdom told that since the spirit is eternal, one should not be afraid of physical death. Death will come anyway, to every single person. A willingness to protect the body from the inevitable extinction only brings suffering.
So, the candle is the metaphor to the spiritual enlightenment that destroys the bodily instincts. When one lives to the spirit, the bodily pleasures and demands become unimportant because they are perishable, temporal, finite. The fire, on the other hand, is eternal.
Christmas Trees and Candles
Since many of the religions before Christianity professed the principle of reincarnation, each of the candles that adorned the pine represented a different body animated by the same spirit.
The ultimate goal of the reincarnation spiral symbolized by the conical shape of the pine is to reach the human ideal. This is often represented by the star at the top of the tree. When men finally become virtuous after so many lives in different bodies, immortality is achieved.
Later, the pine tree became a Christian symbol and was associated to Christmas. The symbolism of the candle was forgotten (since Christianity took the word “reincarnation” away from the Bible in the Council of Constantinople), but candles remained a important part of the Christmas decoration.
Candles on the Christmas Table
Many people buy the most beautiful candles to decorate the Christmas dinner table, but never light them up in order to conserve them for longer. However, like all material things, one day, even the candles that were never lit will perish, as time destroys everything in the physical world.
So, allowing beautiful candles to be burned away by the flame is a great way to remember that the physical body is subjected to destruction. The purpose is only reached when extinction is caused by the fire of the spiritual enlightenment.
Lighting candles and having a moment of introspection when you do can become a beautiful Christmas tradition. Use it as a time to count your blessing and to reflect on your Christmas joys!