The Christmas Eve Candle

The candle or taper is a religious symbol of great antiquity. Light employed in acts of worship express the conviction of mankind which John puts into the words: "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."

As a distinctively Christian symbol the candle has been used to represent three main ideas: Christ as the light of the world; the Bible as the inspired word of God; the Church as shining of God in the world.

This rich symbol has found a very characteristic adaptation in the Christmas Eve Service of the renewed Moravian Church. In this service, burning candles are distributed to the worshipers as they sing praise to their Savior who came to be the light of the world.

The origin of this beautiful custom dates back to 1747 when Bishop John de Watteville provided candles to the children in worship at Marienborn Castle. For many years before this the Moravians looked upon Christmas as a festival celebrating a central Christian truth and as an occasion when children particularly could learn what the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem meant for the world. On Christmas Eve, 1747, Bishop de Watteville spoke of this and of the happiness in which we share as a result of Christs' birth, passion and wounds, and of His kindling a little blood-red flame in each believing heart. To help the children remember this, each was given a burning candle wrapped with a red band.

By the following Christmas, the church in Herrnhut adopted this practice. Since then it has spread wherever Moravians have gone. Most of our American Congregations observe this custom every Christmas Eve. In the mountains of Tibet the children look forward to the butter tea, dried apricots and nuts which go along with their Christmas celebration.

According to Moravian tradition, the candles should be made of beeswax. This, in accord with the fact that beeswax is one of the most pure substances available, thus the most approriate to represent the sinless purity of Christ. For the candle contains symbolism within symbolism; the wax representing the body of the Word become flesh as the wick does the soul, both kindling into the flame to manifest the glory as of the only begotten from the Father. And that glory has shone into the hearts of all who proclaim Christ as Lord. This is the wondrous truth we profess in symbol every Christmas Eve when we hold in our hand the lighted beeswax candle trimmed in red.