Candle Time


December is the time of year where morning comes slowly and evening quickly.

I feel melancholy as I wake up far before the sun rises over the Atlantic ocean, just a few miles to the east of us. As much as I want to embrace these days and all they hold, I am a woman who loves light and sun. I love it when sunlight floods my living room and bright light and warmth comfort me beyond my bones to my soul. As soon as I rise, I go to the kitchen and turn on the lights of the newly decorated Christmas tree and light a single candle. Somehow these small acts are enough to comfort; enough to calm my anxious soul and bring light into life.

It was during days like this that we began our favorite Christmas tradition, something we call “Candle Time”. It began in Cairo with my sister-in-law, Carol. We had the joy of having them live just a few blocks from us during our second year in Cairo. During the Christmas season we found ourselves back and forth at each other’s homes a lot. Together we had five children – three belonged to us, two belonged to them. One evening as our children were winding down after dinner we started “Candle Time”.

We began by turning off every light in the flat. Clad in their onesie pajamas, their toddler fat still squeezable, they sat still in wonder as we lit a candle and began singing Christmas carols. Then we walked each of them off to bed and looked at each other in amazement. We had never had this calm a bedtime routine.

And so began a tradition. Beginning soon after Thanksgiving we started Candle Time. By candle light we sang Christmas carols, talked, and prayed. By candle light we ate frosted sugar cookies. By candle light we drank rich, hot cocoa. By candle light we then walked each child to their beds, kissed them good night to the sound of Silent Night.

It became a favorite part of our holiday season.

Candle time became a treasured tradition, a time of quiet and connection during what is often the busiest time of the year. As the kids grew budding guitarists accompanied our candle time, initially clumsy with chords but soon playing confidently and leading our singing. At times our time became less sacred and more humorous as we tried to harmonize, laughing at those who could never quite find the right note.

Sometimes I would beg to keep one hall light on but the kids would have none of it. It was all lights off except the Christmas tree lights, one candle lit, all of us together. There was no talk of presents. No mention of Santa Claus. Just singing carols and quietly closing the day.

We no longer have little kids and candle time has had to evolve with our family growing up and away. But every year, once the tree is decorated, we try to have candle time a couple of times during the season with who ever happens to be home.

Because no matter how old we get, it helps to stop, turn out all the lights, light a single candle, and, with the glow of the Christmas tree lights creating magic and joy, reflect on the season.


Readers – I’m also over at A Life Overseas today retooling a post that I did last year called Home[sick] for the Holidays. I would love it if you headed over there and offered your thoughts and experiences! Here’s a trailer:

You cannot predict it. It’s invisible. The symptoms are not obvious like a cold, a fever, a stomach-ache. It comes on swiftly and unexpectedly, overwhelms immediately. It’s the inability to control, the surprise with which it comes, and the intense pain that comes with it.

“It” is homesickness. Physical symptoms do come later – inability to concentrate, dry mouth, feeling of being close to tears all the time, not sleeping well. But initially it is invisible.

Many of you know what it’s like to be homesick during the holidays. One of our most poignant family Christmas stories comes out of deep homesickness and my mom’s experience of loneliness and vulnerability in a strange place, a place where God met her in unexpected ways……Read the rest Here.

13 thoughts on “Candle Time

  1. Marilyn, growing up we had candle time throughout December at home and at church. At a time when electrical lights replace candles on Christmas trees it is increasingly special to celebrate this special season with candle time. As Jacqueline and I enjoyed the movie “The Christmas Candle” by Max Lucado we were reminded that the candle is a symbol of unity and love. May you enjoy candle time, Petra

    P.S.: During Sunday service it was announced that this years Christmas service will be held with candle light — how divine.


    1. Never heard of the movie and I’m so happy that you linked! Thank you. I love, love the German tradition of candles on trees. So beautiful. I’ve only seen it a couple of times. And Happy Birthday to you!


  2. Hi Marilyn,
    I was attracted by the title of your piece because I have been mentally composing a Christmas blog post about light. We have so much of it this time of year in Australia. I would have to live here for years before that felt normal. I loved your candle tradition—something to consider when we move back to Pittsburgh next year and are faced with the dark holiday season once again!


    1. I was opposite Christie! I was used to having so much light and warmth at Christmas…and then moved to the United States. My winters turned into a lot of cold and grey so I’ve had to do the white lights and candles to remind me of the light and warmth! I’ll be thinking of you as you transition to Pittsburgh in this next year. Look forward to continuing to connect through writing together!


  3. What a beautiful tradition, Marilyn. I think every family could benefit from candle time, maybe all year long. I remember the hectic days of putting little ones to bed and story time was our calming, winding down for bed ritual. These are the moments that create family memories.


Add to the discussion...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s