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Lighting a candle

When remembering a loved one, many of us will light a candle – whether at home or when visiting a church. But, why do we do this? We thought we’d take a look into the tradition of memorial candles.

A look back into history suggests that lighting a candle in memory of a loved one can be traced back to the 4th and 5th centuries, when the Macedonians would light candles for up to 40 days after a death. They believed the flame would ward off ghosts and demons.

The Greeks and Romans then believed that torches and candles would guide the deceased person on their final journey, while early pagans would bury their loved ones with unlit lamps and candles to give them light.

Moving forward in time, Christians began to use candles during funeral services, lit them on anniversaries of a death or left them burning by a grave.

Today, communities might hold candlelight vigils to mark a death or tragic event, gathering together in solidarity, each holding a simple candle.

On a significant anniversary, we know that some of our families light a candle at home and leave it alongside a photograph of their loved one. In this instance, the candle shows that their memory lives on and still burns bright. It provides a space for not just remembrance but reflection. Again, it also brings an element of ritual, which people can find comforting.

In the time of social media – and more recently, during the pandemic, - people might light candles at home and share the photos online. Some online sites – such as hospices for instance - offer people the opportunity to light a virtual candle. In fact, our own ‘donations and tributes’ page offers visitors the chance to light a candle in somebody’s memory, as well as leaving a message or donating to their chosen charity.

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