“From earliest times to the present, home has always been more than a simple shelter from the elements. Home also represents family and loved ones as well as a place where its members are always welcome. What could be more welcoming to a weary traveler on a dark night than a light glowing in a window? Like a beacon, the light guides the traveler through the inky darkness toward the warmth and safety of the home.” Chuck Nugent from HubPages The Candle in the Window
While “we’ll leave the light on for you” has been used as the advertising catch phrase for one motel chain, leaving a light or a candle burning in the window has a long tradition.
My mother told me that the idea of placing a candle in the window to light the way for a loved one to return home came from World War II. Both her brothers served in that war and came home. She later lit a candle in a window of our house for her beloved brother, Teddy, when he went to fight in the Korean War. He was killed there in combat in 1951.
It turns out that this tradition pre-dates my mother’s knowledge. The cited HubPages quote above by Chuck Nugent celebrates a story of a candle still burning today for a World War I soldier. After more research, a later post by him tells us that the candle was actually lit for a son who went on a journey in 1927 and died in a plane crash. Though the mother who placed it there is long gone, her devotion is still honored. The candle remains, lit night and day, in a home in Canandaigua, NY, a landmark noted by all who visit there.
Colonial Williamsburg has had candles in the window at Christmas since 1934 and cites their architect as saying candles were lit in Boston windows at Christmas since 1896. This made me think of candles in the tower of the Old North Church, “one if by land and two if by sea,” that launched Paul Revere’s ride. Certainly, I have subsequently found other references to candles in windows for Civil War soldiers and in colonial times to light the way home for loved ones.
Ellie Rodriquez said, “The light is what guides you home…warmth is what keeps you there.” A candle easily can stand as a symbol of home, not just for its light, but because its glow seems as warm as the love that waits there for our return. Whether that metaphorical candle has or has not been lit for us, whether that place is still owned by our family, or we never go there anymore, home always occupies a place in our memory. Over time, I think, home acquires perspective. We understand more of what it meant to us as we reflect on our best and even our worst remembrances.
In Polish tradition, “Gromnica” candles are taken to church on February 2nd or Candlemas, the day Mary was blessed in the synagogue after the birth of Christ. After being consecrated, this candle would be placed in windows during thunderstorms to protect the family, lit in the spring to ward off wolves, and placed in the hands of the dying to attest to their faithfulness and light their way home to heaven.
Several years ago I wrote an ad for our church. The text read:
“Home is where you go to make to sense out of things. Family are those who love you while you find the answers. Come HOME…
My hope for you this year is that memories will bring you light, warmth of recollection, and remembrances of love to help you find perspective on the past and make sense of the future. Go home. It’s ok. In memory, we can always find the way and the lights are always on.