I don’t know where I first saw or heard it – somewhere back in the mists of early childhood, one Christmas Eve, a woman setting a candle on the doorstep of her cottage, my grandmother telling me that it was to show her lost ones the way home. A woman who had lost her sons in the war perhaps, or grieving for a baby that didn’t survive.
It was something I saw again and again – a candle burning in the window of a house in Scotland, on the doorstep of a terraced house in Liverpool, homes where we had been invited to spend Christmas Eve simply out of the kindness of the family – “We always ask those who are far from home to join us, because so many of our loved ones can’t be here.”
It seems to be a symbol of kindness as well as remembrance. Your thoughts turn to those who will not be home for Christmas, and remembering them, or thinking of them far away, somehow opens your heart to let others in. The candle is to call them home, to light their way to your side, to let them know that the door is still open, the hearth is still warm – but it is also a way to call anyone lonely and lost on Christmas Eve, that here you will find shelter. It harks back to the Holy Family seeking shelter on the first Christmas Eve, my grandmother told me. The candle calls them home as well.
Watching Mad Max 3, decades ago, I was struck by Helen Buday’s little speech at the end of the movie. ” …and we lights the city. Not just for him….but for all of them that are still out there. ‘Cause we knows there’ll come a night…. when they sees the distant light…and they’ll be coming home…” I had never heard it put into such lovely words before. Of course we do, we light the cities, and the windows, and the roads, to lead all the lost ones home. Not just ours – all over the world, the candle blazes in hopes that the familiar face will appear at the door, those familiar arms will wrap around us again.
We hope that those who are far away will find a welcome at a friendly hearth, a loving group to encircle them in our stead. And we ache to be with those who are beyond our reach, who may be looking down on us and see the candle burning for them. It is not a tradition I can give up.
This year I will be lighting the candle on Christmas Eve for family and friends who are far away, and for those dear ones who will only be with us in spirit, and recalling their names and hoping, wherever they are, there is peace and love.