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Decorating for the holidays

We came back from a weekend away (C. in Preston, I in London, Oxford, and Preston), parking along the street as usual.

I looked at the house on the left. I looked at the house on the right. "Why do so many people have fully-lit menorahs when we're only a couple of days into Hannukah?" I idly mused to C.

He thought they weren't menorahs at all, not in the usual sense, but rather an extrapolation: menorahs are sold this time of year, therefore they must be a Christmas decoration. Therefore there are lots of fully lit ones in windows around the neighborhood. It's rather surreal.

Speaking of which, I bought a card wreath last January and have started using it for the first time. I love its stark simplicity as a wreath, although that's rapidly being lost beneath cheerful seasonal cards. (For those of you who have inadvertantly helped decorate it: thank you!)



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
Do they look something like this?


It's a traditional style of Christmas decoration called a candle bridge; they're often placed in windows and consist of seven candles arranged in an upstanding triangle base. They're usually electric, with candle-shaped bulbs. Perhaps this is what your neighbours have? I can't find out what they're supposed to represent and whether there's a specific meaning for the number of candles used (some have ten candles).
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
I have one myself. It goes in my (very small) front room window behind the little Nativity scene.
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
I bet you're right. I wonder how far back they go by that name and for that function?
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
My parents have one of those - they've had it for years and years. Certainly fifteen years back at least.
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
Here's the first comment I've found on where it might have come from, but it's not a wholly satisfying answer. (Plus, it looks like it comes from a letter written to the Daily Mail, but reposted third-hand, so authoritative in source, it is not.)

Daily Mail (London, England), The, Dec 28, 1996
What is the origin of the candle bridge which has became popular these last few Christmases?

FURTHER to the previous answer, the first time I saw a candle bridge in my neigbour's window I felt very sorry for them because these candle arrangements were common in the sick rooms of the dying and in undertakers' parlours.

The candles would be lit when the priest was summoned to administer the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, when death was imminent. A similar, though larger, bridge, triangular in shape, is used during the Good Friday church service in Tenebrae.

In a darkened church, the candles are extinguished one at a time during the final words of the sermon until only the light at the apex remains. This one is finally extinguished to denote Christ's moment of death on Calvary.

I find these bridges more fitting to Good Friday ceremonies and out of place at Christmas.

W. Ryan, Kelty, Fife.
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
Further confirmation that they probably became popular in the UK in the early-to-mid '90s - the earliest mention of them in the Lexis Library newspaper database is

Daily Record. December 2, 1994, Friday. "HOW CHRISTMAS CAN BE CHEAP AND CHEERFUL!; Christmas for under a ton!"

(I don't know the full extent of this database's scope, but it does have search options for "Go back 20 years" at least)
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
As a lapsed Roman Catholic, I don't recognise the candle bridge as a Catholic tradition. If I remember my Catechism accurately, only two candles are used in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. The Tenebrae (or at least the Roman Rite I'm familiar with) at Easter uses fifteen candles, not all of which are placed in an arch. At church we had an Advent wreath with four or five candles arranged in a circle, and at home we had an advent candle - a single candle lit each night marked with the calendar days of December up to Christmas Eve.

I've been doing some digging, but the only thing Ive been able to turn up, again from a non-authoritative source, is that it is possibly of German or Scandinavian origin (c.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwibbogen). Again, no idea how it came to become popular over here, or what it's meant to represent.

Edited at 2009-12-14 03:36 pm (UTC)
Dec. 14th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
I think its just a pretty lit thing to put in the window, for UK folk, and I suspect they've become common since folk started going to Germany for the Christmas markets and bringing stuff back, and then the continental markets started appearing over here bringing some of the same sort of decorations, and then manufacturors spotted a gap in the market and pounced.
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
I should really get back in the habit of holiday cards again. I'd love to contribute to your wreath :)
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
I saw a lot of those candle-stands in windows when I was in Sweden in early Dec one year - wondered if there was some connection to St Lucia.

Edited at 2009-12-14 03:15 pm (UTC)
Dec. 14th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
I blame Ikea.
What? They are usually made of wood and I've always thought they were Scandinavian in origin. Therefore, the usual suspect is Ikea.

Dec. 14th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
Not directly, as far as I know. But certainly they've been around for more than 40 years. I'll ask around.
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
When I first came to live in the UK in the late 90s I too was baffled by all the fully lit menorahs everywhere all December long. Probably apocryphal, but I like the following explanation very much: one year, one of the big bingo chains got a huge job lot of electric menorahs for tuppence and gave them away as prizes around the holiday season, hence the weird proliferation!
Dec. 14th, 2009 10:32 pm (UTC)
I don't know why I just tuned in to this. (Then again, I was startled by the use of the word "tinsel" this weekend and had to consciously remember that it means something different here; despite having only learned this last year.)
Dec. 16th, 2009 11:13 am (UTC)
What does tinsel mean in the United States?
Dec. 16th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
Narrow little strips of metallic plastic foil which is meant to look like artificial icicles on a tree but gets everywhere and clings to everything. The old-fashioned variety are twists of tin about 4 inches long, hung by a hook from a tree.
Dec. 16th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
Rescued by tags: it's called angel hair or lametta in this country.
Dec. 14th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
Your card is on the way! I hope it makes it across the Pond before New Year's Eve. I love that method of displaying the cards - I must look for something like that here.
Dec. 14th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
How kind! Thank you!

The wreath was made in China under the auspices of an American company and imported to the UK. Ah, globalization.
Dec. 14th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
I've seen them around since at least the early 90s, with varying numbers of candles/candle-shaped bulbs. I'd guess that their popularity has at least something to do with the fact that they're the right size and shape for putting on windowsills (unlike, say, the sort of Advent candle wreath I'm used to seeing in CofE churches).
Dec. 14th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
I had to laugh when I saw some rather lovely menorahs in T K Maxx labelled as "ideal for Christmas"...
Dec. 14th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
I don't understand Americans saying they look like menorahs; they don't look like menorahs to me.

Dec. 14th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
What really matters in a menorah is that it has the right number of candles. Modern menorahs come in all sorts of variations beyond having nine candles (for Hannukah) - or seven as a symbol of the Temple. The varying numbers for varying uses are part of the confusion for me.


Dec. 15th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
I always thought of candle bridges as being a scandinavian thing (mentioned above) or possibly swedish specifically.

In Ireland you light a single candle in the window over the 12 days of Christmas to help the lost find their way home (which is a tradition I love) and recently (the last 15 years) that single candle has been usurped by the candle bridge. I'm still with the single candle.

I also own a Menorah as i asked for one from a Jewish friend and have strict instruction on how and when to light it.
Dec. 16th, 2009 11:28 am (UTC)
A single candle is a lovely tradition and one I would never confuse. It makes sense.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )