Candle in the window at Christmas

If You See a Lit Candle in Someone's Window During Christmas, This is What it Means

Plus where to buy your own candles to join this holiday tradition.

Starting as early as Nov. 1, homes across the country trade in their simple porch lights for colorful strings of LEDs, projected dancing snowflakes and light-up Santa Claus figures that tower over the front lawn. Decorating your Christmas porch is almost as important as your Christmas tree for many families.

The home lighting situation around the holidays seems to grow bigger and brighter every year. So it's almost more noticeable when houses don't have the over-the-top displays, with their owners instead opting to light a single tapered candle in each of their windows. While many might think that a lit candle in someone's window is just another decoration, the tradition actually has deep roots — and many potential meanings.

While the exact origin of placing lit candles in windows is unknown, evidence of it is found all the way back in Colonial times. People would often place a candle in a window to signify that the building or home was open for passing visitors seeking shelter or food. It was like today's neon "open" sign but with a little more warmth and welcome.

Some historians trace the signal back to the Irish Catholics who — during a time of persecution when they were not allowed to practice their faith openly — would use the candles to let priests know their home was a safe haven. The light served as a beacon, letting the clergy know it was safe to perform Mass inside.

Obviously, the need for religious refuge has changed, but the tradition of placing candles in windows during the holiday season has carried on. So what does it mean when you see a lit candle in someone's window today? Here's what we know about the Christmas tradition.

Honoring Lost Loved Ones

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One interpretation of the candle tradition is that it honors the deceased. The warm glow of a single candle in an otherwise dark window can symbolize the light and love that continue to shine even after someone has died.

If the person is religious, the candle may be a silent prayer acknowledging the presence of their loved one or a way to remember them during the holiday season. Sometimes, people will place relics and memories of their loved ones near the candle to commemorate them further. Holidays can be a difficult time for those who've lost someone, and the candle in the window can serve as a way to keep their memory alive.

A Prayer for a Safe Return

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According to the blog Irish American Mom, many families will light a candle at Christmas as a prayer for the safe return of a loved one absent from the holidays. It's a signal that the door is always open and someone is there, waiting for them to come home.

Celebrating Milestones

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Displaying a lit candle can also be celebratory in nature. Some families place these candles in their windows to mark special occasions such as a baby being born, an engagement or someone returning home after time away. The candle can symbolize bringing new light and hope into the world or brightening up the future.

Religious Symbolism

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For those who do it for religious reasons, a candle in the window can hold several meanings. Christians use a lit candle to represent the Star of Bethlehem, guiding the wise men to the manger where Jesus was born. In other cases, a lit candle can symbolize the light of Christ or God's presence in one's home.

Christmas Cheer

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And finally, let's not forget the most straightforward interpretation of all: a Christmas wish. For some families, it doesn't hold any specific meaning other than being a festive addition to their holiday decor. It adds a touch of warmth and tradition to the home and can make it feel more inviting during the cold winter months.

Best Candles for Windows

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No matter your religion or intention, anyone can adopt this holiday tradition at any time. If you plan to place a candle in your window this year, opt for flameless LED candles. Traditional wax candles can be a fire hazard if left unattended or too close to flammable material such as curtains. Battery-operated candles provide the same cozy ambiance without any risk, and they come in a range of colors and styles that'll fit your holiday decor perfectly.

Here are some of our favorites:

Whatever the meaning behind placing a lit candle in your window, it's clear that this tradition has stood the test of time and will continue to bring warmth and light to homes for many years to come.

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