Why Do People Burn A Bayberry Candle On Christmas Eve?

Bayberry candles have a long history dating back to colonial times in New England. The candles were originally made from the waxy berries of the bayberry shrub by early settlers as a cheaper and more readily available alternative to expensive beeswax candles imported from Europe. The practice of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve emerged during the early 19th century and is believed to have originated in New England as well.

The tradition involves lighting bayberry candles on Christmas Eve, allowing them to burn throughout the night, and then extinguishing the candles Christmas morning. There are a few origins attributed to this tradition, with the most popular being tied to an old Irish or Celtic legend that states burning a bayberry candle would bring good luck and fortune in the coming year. The fragrant smoke from the bayberry candle was thought to ward off evil spirits and bring protection. For this reason, families would often burn bayberry candles while opening gifts or during Christmas dinner. Today, many people continue this tradition of lighting bayberry scented candles on Christmas Eve to usher in the holiday spirit and attract good tidings for the new year.

Origins of the Tradition

The tradition of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve dates back to early American colonists in New England. The coastal shrub known as the bayberry plant was abundant in the region, and colonists discovered that its waxy grey-green berries could be boiled down to produce a aromatic, green vegetable wax.

This bayberry wax became ideal for candle making, as it burned slowly and gave off a distinctive spicy scent. The practice of hand-dipping bayberry candles became commonplace in New England homes during the 1700s and 1800s. The annual winter chore of making bayberry candles was done by candle dipping parties, where friends and neighbors would gather together.

Within New England, the tradition took deeper roots in the Massachusetts and Connecticut area. Burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve was considered a sign of good fortune and a way to ward off evil spirits before the excitement of Christmas Day.

Bayberry Candle Lore and Legends

Bayberry candles have their roots in ancient lore and legend. There are many myths and stories that link the aromatic candles to holiday magic and wishes of prosperity. Across different cultures and times, folklore has developed about the candles bringing good fortune, protecting against evil spirits, and making wishes come true on Christmas Eve.

One popular legend says that to bring wealth and happiness in the coming year, a bayberry candle must be burned all the way down on Christmas Eve. There are many different versions of poems and rhymes recited when lighting the candle, all with the same theme of making a wish and letting the candle burn overnight to make the wish come true.

In Celtic mythology, bayberry branches were thought to ward off evil spirits and demons. Burning bayberry candles on the winter solstice was believed to cleanse negative energy from the home and encourage positive change for the future. Wiccans and modern pagans have kept the practice of burning bayberry candles or incense on Yule and winter solstice for purification.

The most famous bayberry candle legend originated in colonial America. It was said that for every candle a woman made from harvested bayberries, a ghost ship containing her long lost sailor husband would try to return home. Keeping a bayberry candle burning in the window would help guide him back safely. This tale transformed over time into the tradition of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve to welcome absent family members home for the holidays.

While the origins may have mythic roots, the common theme is that bayberry candles came to represent light, hope, and a secure passage into the new year. The legends bless the candles with special meaning and holiday magic.

Growth in Popularity

The tradition of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve grew in popularity during the Victorian era. As interest in old-fashioned holiday customs and decorations surged, bayberry candles came to represent a nostalgic part of Christmas celebrations.

Wealthy Victorian families would often decorate their homes with fragrant bayberry candles to invoke memories of Christmases past. The practice aligned with the Victorian obsession with creating an idealized Christmas experience filled with traditions of eras gone by.

Today, many American families continue the tradition of lighting bayberry candles on Christmas eve to infuse their celebrations with a sense of nostalgia. The candles provide a symbolic and aromatic connection to Christmases from decades or even centuries past. Though not as ubiquitous as in the Victorian era, bayberry candles remain a beloved part of holiday decor for many.

How Bayberry Candles Are Made

Bayberry candles get their name from the wax used to make them, which comes from the fruit of the bayberry bush. This pale green, aromatic wax has a very high natural wax content, making it perfect for candlemaking. To produce bayberry wax, the fruits are boiled in water to separate the waxy coating from the seeds and stems. The wax rises to the top and is then skimmed off and strained. This labor-intensive harvesting process means that bayberry wax is more expensive than other types of candle wax.

Once the raw bayberry wax has been collected, it is melted and poured into molds to form candles. Wicks are inserted before the wax hardens. Alternatively, the wax can be repeatedly heated and hand-formed around wicks to create hand-dipped bayberry candles. The naturally high wax content gives bayberry candles a smooth finish and clean burn. The candles also retain the fresh, woodsy fragrance of the bayberry fruit. Their pleasing scent and gentle flickering light make bayberry candles a favorite for holiday decorating and Christmas Eve traditions.

Burning Bayberry Candles

One of the signature elements of burning a bayberry candle at Christmas is the delightful fragrance and aroma. Bayberry candles are known for their pleasant, spicy scent thanks to the aromatic compounds in the wax. The fragrance is often described as warm, earthy, and minty. The scent is strong but not overpowering, making it perfect for creating Christmas ambience.

In addition to their wonderful fragrance, bayberry candles are appreciated for their exceptionally slow and even burn rate. The candles burn slowly and steadily, meaning they last a long time – up to 24 hours of burn time for a single candle! The slow burn allows the bayberry scent to permeate a room at a gradual pace for hours.

To enhance the burning experience, many people incorporate festive candle holders and other decorative elements. Holiday-themed candle holders featuring Christmas colors, pine cones, holly leaves, and more help complement the cozy bayberry aroma. The candles may be arranged on the mantel, on side tables, or clustered together as a centerpiece. With their nostalgic scent and cheery decor, burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve is a beloved tradition for many.

Tradition and Meaning

Bayberry candles hold deep symbolic meaning and associations with luck, prosperity, and holiday magic. The tradition of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve has been passed down through generations as a beloved cultural custom. There are continuing folk beliefs and lore surrounding the candles that highlight their auspicious properties.

The Christmas Eve bayberry candle tradition originated from the superstition that a candle lit from a bayberry bush on Christmas Eve would bring good fortune in the coming year. The leftover wax was also considered a charm to invite prosperity. Over time, communities began gifting the aromatic candles as tokens of luck. The custom took hold as families made a tradition of lighting the candles together on Christmas Eve before bed and sometimes using the leftover wax in other household items.

In some traditions, bayberry candles hold associations with magical properties that release when burned on Christmas Eve night. Some believe the candle’s glow on the darkest night brings forth renewed hope. Others view the candlelight as a way to guide friendly spirits into the home. Whatever the beliefs may be, the annual custom continues to infuse the holiday with folk magic.

Burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve has become a beloved tradition for many modern families who may not know the full origins but enjoy partaking in the meaningful ritual. The ceremonial lighting, special associations, and shared moments around the candles endure as a treasured holiday tradition through the generations.

Other Holiday Candle Traditions

Bayberry candles are not the only candle-related tradition during the winter holidays. Other cultures and regions have their own special candle customs that share some similarities as well as differences from the bayberry candle tradition.

In Scandinavian countries, people light candles on Saint Lucia’s Day on December 13th. The oldest daughter in a household dresses in a white gown with a red sash and a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. She serves her family a breakfast of saffron buns called “lussekatter.” The candle crown signifies the fire that refused to take the life of Saint Lucia when she was sentenced to be burned.

In Ireland, a central candle called the Christ Candle is lit on Christmas Eve to represent Jesus Christ as the Light of the World. One candle is lit for each week of Advent leading up to Christmas Eve. The Christ Candle is left burning throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas.

In the American South, illumination candles made from beeswax are often used during Christmas. These thick candles are placed in candlesticks to light homes before electric lamps became common. The candlelight signifies hope for the birth of Christ.

While traditions vary, the common theme of holiday candles representing light, hope, and the spirit of the season connects them. Bayberry candles are unique for their symbolic ties to prosperity, magical properties, and aromatic evergreen scent.

Bayberry Candle Alternatives

For those looking to continue the bayberry candle tradition but wanting a more modern take, there are some great alternatives to the old-fashioned bayberry candle.

Other natural vegetable wax candles are a great option to achieve a similar clean-burning experience as with bayberry candles. Soy, palm, or beeswax candles make excellent substitutes. Just be sure to choose candles labeled as 100% vegetable wax or beeswax.

Essential oils like cinnamon, clove, pine, and orange can be added to any candle to mimic the nostalgic aromas of a traditional bayberry candle. A few drops per candle is plenty to infuse a lovely scent.

If you want to modernize the look of your holiday candles, there are many beautiful candle holders, lanterns, and accessories to house traditional candles or flameless battery-operated candles. Give your decor a contemporary twist while upholding time-honored traditions.

However you choose to observe the custom of burning a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve, you can find creative ways to make the tradition your own while preserving its meaningful spirit of hope and celebration.


The tradition of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve has a long and celebrated history. Originating in colonial New England, it was believed that burning a bayberry candle would usher in good fortune, guard against evil spirits, and protect the household in the coming year. The association between the aromatic bayberry bush and Christmas Eve magic created popular lore and legends around these special candles.

In modern times, this unique tradition continues to hold appeal. The rich scent and warm glow provide comfort and nostalgia, transporting people back to cherished holiday memories. Burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve has become a beloved custom for many families, representing hope, continuity, and the welcoming of the Christmas season.

Today, bayberry candles remain a popular part of Christmas Eve festivities. They are burned to summon luck, ward off harm, and bring joy to the household. The distinctive fragrance, connection to history, and mystical associations make bayberry candles a special part of Christmas tradition and celebration.

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