The Treasured Tradition of Burning a Bayberry Candle on Christmas Eve

treasured tradition


Following a tradition shows an appreciation for past values and shares a wonderful sense of belonging to a special heritage. The burning of bayberry candles on Christmas Eve can be considered one of these treasured traditions. Believed to have originated during the colonial times, the bayberry candle is still being lit on Christmas Eve for the bringing of cheerful blessings. It is one which I remember doing growing up, and continue to do myself today.

The Bayberry Bush and Berry

The bayberry bush can be found growing abundantly in the sandy soils along the north eastern coast. The small berries of the fragrant shrub were noticed by the early settlers to be covered with a waxy coating. The plentiful clusters of bayberries on the five to seven foot shrubs were harvested by colonial Americans for the making of a better burning candle wax.

It was discovered the wax left by the boiling down of the berries and then skimmed off the top produced a cleaner and more pleasant smelling candle. The new fashioned candles were highly valued and offered a fresh alternative from the candle wax made out of animal fat. The process of collecting the bayberry wax was time consuming though and so the crafted candles were considered a fine indulgence and one which should be used sparingly. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve became a favorite time to burn the specialty candles.

The Bayberry Candle Poem

The appreciation for the rarity of the bayberry candles and the value placed on them caused the giving or the receiving of the candles to be thought of as a significant gesture of love and friendship. This history behind the bayberry candles formed the tradition to burn them on Christmas Eve and/or New Year’s Eve. Today, they are often purchased and shared with an accompanying tale and poem about the past and current beliefs of burning the bayberry candles.

The common verse found along with the sweet smelling candles is as follows,

“This bayberry candle comes from a friend,
so on Christmas Eve burn it to the end.
For a bayberry candle burned to the socket,
will bring joy to the heart, and gold to the pocket.”

Following a Treasured Tradition

Understanding why the tradition exists can bring new meaning to the practice of burning bayberry candles on Christmas Eve. The routine of blindly following a tradition every year can make the custom of carrying it out lose its significance or possibly even forgotten.

Remembering and sharing why the candles were so special to begin with will make the following of the tradition a more heartfelt experience. The cherished meaning for the burning of bayberry candles will assure the tradition can continue to be passed down and be appreciated for many more years to come.

Please feel free to share your treasured tradition for Christmas in comments below.

And I hope you all have a blessed Christmas/holiday.


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27 Responses

  1. JL says:

    Thanks for sharing Jenny,
    I will look for one and start a tradition here.

  2. Strawshadow says:

    Thanks Jenny,
    This little shared treasure has put me right into the Christmas spirit. What a perfect gift idea for those we hold dear, a poem by candlelight.

  3. pdenver says:

    Beautiful story about the Bayberry candles, Jenny. There are many traditions my family share during the Christmas season, but one I’d like to share with you that began when I was a little girl. On Christmas morning, my parents had my two sisters and I wait until they had everything ready for us to see what Santa brought. When everything was ready, Mom would place a record on the record player, and when the song began, it was our signal to go into the living room and see our surprised expressions on our faces. I own the record now and I’ve followed the same tradition. I’ve played it ever since my children were born. They would wait in their bedrooms until I had everything ready. Christmas tree lights turned on, scent of pine candles lit, and then the placing of the needle upon the record which played, “Joy To The World” by Percy Faith…an orchestral rendition of the song. Once my children heard the song begin, it was their sign to come running down the hall. They’re adults now, but I still do it. As a matter of fact, the record sits on the turntable now, waiting for Christmas morning.

    • pdenver says:

      After posting my comment, I started to think about my other children who have since moved into their own homes. A couple of them have children. Would they like to continue the same tradition with their families? How could they if I have the album? Each of my children will now receive a Percy Faith CD with the first song being “Joy To The World” to open before Christmas. I can hear the song playing in my head now.

      • Hunny says:

        What a great idea PD! Traditions are such an important part of bringing a family together. I hope to pass some of our family’s wonderful traditions down to my own children.

  4. Twingem says:

    I simply love this, Jenny. Thank you as always for such great information. Happy Holidays!!

  5. Ellen says:

    Thank you Jenny. Your new post has quickly resurrected some treasured childhood memories. Looking back now to my “adult” years, I realize how much love and care I put each Christmas into selecting/purchasing a new tree ornament that would tell a small story about that year. Perhaps, without thinking about it…I have been telling a story about myself…Those yearly ornaments mingle with all my other special ornaments (those from my childhood and many handmade by my children and grandchildren). I need a bigger tree!

    OK…still not fond of some of the Christmas Eve Scandinavian food traditions (especially the Sill/Pickled Herring and lutefisk, which is codfish preserved in lye)…yuck!! However, the smell of some of the traditional baking does still make me smile…like Swedish Spritz (butter) cookies and Norwegian Krumkake/Krum kaka (made with a special waffle iron)…

    pdenver…I enjoyed reading about your tradition. Happy Holidays to you…and to all…

    • pdenver says:

      I love your tradition, Ellen. I remember being a little girl and my mom and her side of the family opening a jar of pickled herring. I think I had a taste, but don’t recall if I liked it. I love Swedish Spritz cookies. Is the Krum kaka something like an unfilled blintz? I hope you’ll find yourself with many more memorable smiles on this holiday season. Happy Holidays to you.

  6. Jenny Kile says:

    Thank you all for sharing your traditions…… they are so special. ~jenny

  7. JC1117 says:

    That’s a beautiful tradition, Jenny.

    I hadn’t heard burning a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve before. I don’t think we have many bayberries here in the desert. 🙂

    You hinted at the Marvelous reason why…which I am sure many understand.

    Burning a candle has beautiful symbolism…which makes it a Tradition to Cherish.

    It makes me think of this song. It’s not very Christmas-y…per se…unless you want it to be.

    Thanks for sharing that, Jenny.

  8. Belle says:

    Traveling down a highway on Christmas Eve, not a soul in sight, listening to the radio, an ache in my heart longing to get back to my family and having said goodbye to someone I dearly loved. The sky was full of beautiful stars and the song, Silent Night was playing on the radio. December was my mom’s favorite time of the year. My Christmas tradition is the act of giving. God bless us all…

    • Hunny says:

      Beautiful Belle! It’s so hard to say goodbye but it’s comforting to think of it more as a “see you later” than goodbye.Happy Holidays!

    • Ellen says:

      Belle…your mom sounds like someone who carried “Christmas” and giving in her heart year round. Enjoy your memories of yesterday and new ones today.

      I was drawn to your name “Belle”…I was just wrapping gifts for my great-granddaughter…her favorite Disney Princess is “Belle” from “Beauty and the Beast”

  9. Belle says:

    Hunny, that’s a great way to think of it! I’m going to start the bayberry tradition. Thank you, Jenny.

  10. Belle says:

    Traditional foods served at Christmas could be a fun way to incorporate some flair.

    • pdenver says:

      Hello Belle. I think serving traditional foods at Christmas is a great way to kindle warm memories from yesteryear. I have done this myself and the family always looks forward to this time of year. The warm smell of spices and the aroma lingering throughout the house is second best to eating the treats. Some people make gingerbread houses and decorate them as a family. I have not done this, but thought it would be nice to try one day. Perhaps a great tradition to start for the grandkids. I think most decorations would end in their bellies before they landed on their houses. That’s the fun of it! 🙂

    • Hunny says:

      Belle, I love your idea!
      Our family is blending of two cultures but we have chosen mostly traditions from my husbands side for the December holidays. I’ve come to love the lighting of the menorah especially on the 8th night of Hanakah. We turn out all the lights and watch the candles burn down.
      But Hanakah wouldn’t be complete without the potato latkes. My husband is the chef on this one. Crispy fried potato pancakes served with applesauce and sour cream! Our tradition is to share the first one out of the frying pan ( just to make sure it’s delicious!)
      I still have warm memories of Christmas at my grandparents house.

      • pdenver says:

        Hunny, you have a great tradition. I like it! It’s been years since I’ve had potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream. I may need to make some now! 🙂

  11. Susan Smith says:

    Will burning bayberry tea light candles be the same as the taper candles

  12. pdenver says:

    As Christmas nears, I am reminded of more family traditions. “The Night Before Christmas” has always been read on Christmas Even night, just before bedtime. To tell the story with much expression has been a great joy for my family. Each year, they would giggle at me when I’d get to the part of naming off the reindeers. I acted as if I was Santa, calling out their names in a bold voice, in the middle of flight. Last year was the first year I wasn’t able to read the story because the family headed for bed real early. This year, I’ll hogtie them to their chairs! 🙂

  13. SL says:

    Gave me feelings of Christmas joy!


  14. Hunny says:

    Today is the winter solstice. The shortest, darkest day of the year.
    Now the days will start getting longer again and we start moving toward spring 😁
    Here’s a little bit on winter solstice traditions:

  15. pdenver says:

    Family gathers outside, either late Christmas Eve night or the wee hours of Christmas morning. A single gold balloon is let into the air as we wish Jesus a Happy Birthday. We remain outside until the balloon is no longer visible. It’s really a beautiful sight and special moment.

    Thank you Jenny for this wonderful link. It has been a joy to read your tradition(s) and others. For those who do not have one, perhaps you may find one that you may start. They’re like a warm sweater for the soul.

  16. Jenny Kile says:

    Beautiful traditions….. they are so awesome to have and keep enjoying…… (and even adding new ones…)

    Merry Christmas everyone….

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