As the days grow colder and the nights longer, the dead gather closer. During this most haunted time, candles are lit to drive away evil spirits and lure back the sun.
In ages past, it was considered extremely unlucky to light the Yule candle before dusk on Christmas Eve. It had to be lit just as the sun was going down – and only by the head of the household – then allowed to burn throughout the night. Should it have been snuffed out before morning, it would be an omen that, before the year was through, a terrible misfortune – namely death – would fall upon the family.
The light that was cast by the candle was believed to have magical properties and anyone ‘touched’ by it would be protected against ‘witching’ or any other kind of enchantment for the span of the Christmas season.
The remains of the Yule candle were just as precious and believed to have protective qualities. In England, leftover wax was smeared on cow udders to hamper any mischief-making by dark spirits. Even into the 1980s, many folk would not voluntarily leave their home on Christmas Eve, for fear of running into ‘uncanny beings.’
In Norway and Denmark, two candles were lit on instead of one. They represented the husband and wife of the family, and it was believed that whoever’s candle burned out first would be the first to die.