In homes throughout the Coal Region, flames flicker on bayberry candles both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
This generations old tradition stems from the legend that the burning of the candles on these days brought about blessings of abundance in the coming year.
To Colonial settlers who arrived on our shores, everything was in short supply, including candles. Their candles were normally made of tallow (animal fat) which tended to smoke, give off an odor, and turn rancid.
A more pleasant solution
It was discovered that the bayberry bush had berries that would give off a waxy residue when boiled resulting in a sweet smelling wax with a longer, cleaner burn than tallow candles. However, one pound of bayberry wax requires 15 pounds of bayberries, so bayberry candles were considered a luxury and only burned on special occasions.
And so it became a tradition to burn bayberry candles on festive days like Christmas or New Years eves to bring blessings of abundance in the coming year; one that continues yet today.
According to tradition
The candle should be lit in the evening, when you see the first star appear in the sky. You should not extinguish the candle yourself (bad luck!); it should burn until after midnight down to the nub and go out on its own. For this reason, you should choose candles with 8 to 9 hours burn time.
A Word Of Caution
It is extremely risky to keep a candle burning in an empty house, though there might be ways to reduce (if not eliminate) the risk. I never do it. After all, the point of burning the bayberry candle it is to bring good luck — it’s not very good luck to return home from church, socializing, or a new year celebration to find a pile of smoldering ruins, is it?
Give a gift, get a gift
Often, two friends will exchange a pair of bayberry candles and recite this poem:
“These bayberry candles come from a friend.Anonymous
So on Christmas Eve & New Years Eve burn it down to the end.
For a bayberry candle burned to the socket will bring joy to the heart & gold to the pocket.”
The real thing
Many candles on the market today are “bayberry scented”. True bayberry candles are available and are usually worth their price if tradition and the authentic mild scent of true bayberry are important to you.
If you do not desire to burn taper candles, many people choose true bayberry votives which are burned in a heat-save votive holder, don’t tip over as easily, and usually have the desired burn time.
Our wish for you
Wishing you good luck, good health, and abundant blessings this holiday season and throughout the new year on behalf of my “Coalcracker in the Kitchen Family”: myself, husband James, and Pommie fur-kids Sable, Peaches, Tiffany. Blackberry, Carly, Bonnie, Simon, Frankie, and Barkley
Lori Fogg, A Coalcracker In The Kitchen
Sharing coal region comfort foods and nostalgia
Born and raised “a coal miner’s daughter” in Schuylkill County in the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania, I love to share recipes and memories of home with fellow “coalcrackers” and celebrate our unique blending of Eastern European and Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and cuisines here in northeast Pennsylvania.