Christmas Eve is a magical time. The waiting of Advent is over and the celebration of the Savior's birth is about to begin.
One beautiful way that the Irish have traditionally kept this holy night is with the lighting of a candle in the window. The warm light from its glow acts as a welcome to all so that no one should be without shelter.
Offering hospitality to others by way of a lighted candle is a tradition as old as ancient Ireland. In more recent centuries during times of persecution in Ireland, the candle offered a welcome to priests that the home was a safe haven and that Mass could be offered there. On Christmas Eve, the candle also symbolizes the willingness of the household to welcome the Holy Family, so that the Infant Jesus and his family would not again be turned away. One Irish belief held that Joseph, Mary and Jesus still wandered the world, seeking a place of refuge from Herod.
The words of The Kerry Carol, written by Sigerson Clifford, admonish us to be sure to provide a welcome for the Holy Family on this special night before Christmas. Below are verses two and seven. I've placed the full version of the song here.
Ná múch an coinneal ard bán,
Ach fág é lásta go geal.
Go mbeidh siad cinnte ar aon
go bhfuil fáilte is fiche roimh cách
Sa teach ar an Oiche Nollag naofa seo!
Don't blow the tall white candle out
But leave it burning bright,
So that they'll know they're welcome here
This holy Christmas night!
Ná cur ar an ndoras ach an laiste anocht!
Agus coimead na gríosaigh beó -
Agus guí go mbeidh siad fén ar ndíon anocht
Agus an domhan 'na chodladh go suan.
Leave the door upon the latch,
And set the fire to keep,
And pray they'll rest with us tonight
When all the world's asleep.
Tim Dennehy, who has recorded The Kerry Carol, has also written a song of his own to be sung in welcome of the Holy Family on Christmas Eve.
Tim has taken a traditional Irish prayer of welcome and added additional verses and a refrain. His song, An Nollaig Theas, begins as follows:
Dia do bheatha 'dir asal is damh gan riar
Dia do bheatha id' leanbh, id Fhlaith gan chiach
Dia do bheatha ód' Fhlaithis go teach na bpian
Dia do bheathasa 'Íosa.
Dún do shúil a Rí an tSolais, dún do shúile ríoga
Dún do shúil a Shaoi an tSonais, dún do shúile síoda.
Translated to English, the words are:
God's greeting to you untended 'tween ox and ass
God's greeting to you Child and Prince serene
God's greeting to you from heaven to the hour of pain
God's greeting to you dear Jesus.
Close your eyes oh King of light, close your regal eyes
Close your eyes oh fount of happiness, close your silken eyes.
You can find the rest of the lyrics to the song on Tim Dennehy's website Sceilig.com.
If you choose to light a candle in your window this Christmas Eve and would like to follow Irish tradition, remember that it requires that the candle be left burning throughout the night. Oh, and it must only be blown out by one having the name of Mary! Or was that the youngest child in the family? Actually it might have been the youngest child who would, of course, be named Mary.
No matter. As long as you get the candle in the window I think any Irishman or woman would be feel welcomed at your home on Christmas Eve, not to mention Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus.
Image courtesy of DoChara.com.
This article is part of a series written in celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It will be included as part of the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2009 Day 24: Christmas Eve. Make a visit to Thomas MacEntee's GeneaBloggers website for some additional inspiration to get yourself in the holiday spirit!
The article originally appeared here at Small-leaved Shamrock and was included in Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2007.