The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and History

Last Updated on November 17, 2022 by Ellen Christian

Being from New England, the legend of the Bayberry Candle is one of my favorite Christmas legends.  Start this new tradition this year.

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I thought the story was one that everyone knew until I met my husband who grew up in Texas. He had never heard of the legend of the bayberry candle.  For those of you who may not be familiar with it, I want to share it with you now. It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Being from New England, the legend of the Bayberry Candle is one of my favorite Christmas legends.  Start this new tradition this year.

The Legend of the Bayberry Candle

Wondering about the beginning of the legend of the bayberry candle? Hundreds of years ago, when colonial families settled in New England, they began taking care of the chores that needed to be done to set up their homes.

Most of these chores fell to the women.  Women were in charge of making the candles their family would need.  The average colonial home would need up to 400 candles to light the home for a year.

And, they would make the candles made from the tallow or animal fat from the animals that were slaughtered during the year. I cannot even imagine what a difficult chore this must have been. And, I’m glad I don’t need to do it today.

You can get the candles right here.

a log home with snow on the ground in the woods

Bayberry candle history

As you can imagine, tallow can have quite an odor after it has sat around for several months.  In richer families, the women would make their candles from beeswax or bayberry wax because the smell was much nicer than tallow.

Not all families could afford this luxury all of the time. So, women saved the bayberry candles for Christmas time or other special times of the year.

Because this was such a treasured tradition, the legend of the bayberry candle was born.


Where do bayberries come from?

Another name for bayberry is wax myrtle. The women would gather bushels of bayberries and then boil them to let the waxy substance from the berries seep out.  

The wax would rise to the top of the water. You would skim the wax off the top once it cooled.   It took about 15 pounds of bayberries to make a pound of wax.  

From this wax, the more well-off families would make their winter candles. The start of the legend of the bayberry candle involved quite a bit of work in colonial times. 

4 bayberry candles with flickering flames

Bayberry candle meaning

Folklore says that if you light a brand new bayberry candle on Christmas Eve you will have health, wealth, and prosperity for the new year.  You absolutely must burn it all the way down to the bottom.  

The legend of the bayberry candle says that “A bayberry candle burnt to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket.”  

Why do you burn bayberry candles?

Whether or not this legend is true, I don’t know.  But, most years, we will burn Bayberry candles as our Christmas candles.

I love the scent and the story behind these candles. We burn bayberry candles because it’s a family tradition. It’s something we’ve been doing for years.

Whether the folklore is true or not, I have no idea. But, I love the story behind this Christmas tradition. And, I hope you’ll share the legend of the bayberry candle with your family.

child dipping candles

While taper candles were the traditional bayberry candle shape in colonial times, you can find real bayberry candles in a variety of different shapes today.

You make candles by dipping the wick repeatedly into vats of melted wax. You hang the candles to dry once the wax hardens.

The kids and I have visited a local living museum called Shelburne Museum many times to watch employees create candles and other things people needed to live back then. 

We always have an amazing time. And, it’s where I learned about the whole story of the legend of the bayberry candle.

Being from New England, the legend of the Bayberry Candle is one of my favorite Christmas legends.  Start this new tradition this year.

What is bayberry oil used for?

For those interested in essential oils, bayberry oil is a by-product of boiling down the berries. Historically, you would use bayberry oil as a gargle for sore throats.

You can also sprinkle it around your home to help bring you luck and wealth according to the legend of the bayberry candle.

a fireplace with a fire going and Christmas stockings hung

Why burn bayberry candles on Christmas Eve?

If you want to start a new Christmas tradition in your home, lighting a bayberry candle for health, wealth, and prosperity is a simple tradition that can be easily added to your holiday.

You’ll want to pick up two traditional bayberry candles along with a pair of candleholders. You can place these on the table as part of your holiday table setting.

Be sure to involve the kids so they understand the legend.

Have you ever burned bayberry candles before? Did you know the Bayberry candle poem or the legend of the bayberry candle?

Why not learn more about Christmas traditions in colonial times in this article. Then, you can add a few traditions to your Christmas.

18 thoughts on “The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and History”

  1. We were taught that you must light a true bayberry candle so that it burns through midnight to greet Christmas and another to greet the new year. The candles must burn completely until they extinguish themselves. They supposedly protect the home and bring good luck, good health, and wealth, what I suspect is considered good fortune. We have done this for generations. Since these two burn unsupervised for most of the time, as a safety factor, we prefer to romantically place then in a stainless steel kitchen sink, although a cookie sheet in the bathtub will do in a pinch! :-) We, of course, burn bayberry candles in the usual manner as well, but none of us would miss the welcome of Christmas or the New Year. Indeed, ensuring everyone in the extended family has their candles has also become another family tradition and form of contact.
  2. your story about the bayberry candles popped up on my feed and I immediately saved it. My husband and I live in South Georgia and bought a house a few years ago. I discovered a tree that I'd never seen and it was a Wax Myrtle. They are all over our property. I've been reading about this tree and I'm hoping to make my own bayberry candles this year! I'm so very excited! Thank you for sharing the tradition 😊
  3. I always burn a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve. But it’s a yankee candle and it’s the same one every year lol I burn it all day up until 11:00-11:30 every year . Thank you for the history
  4. I’ve burned bayberry candles since I can’t remember how long. Over the years I’ve found very few (less than the year before) that are genuine bay Berry. Most are made of soy and essential oils. I don’t like soy candles in the first place, but especially when it comes to bayberry. It’s the bayberry oil that makes them special and brings the magic to the ritual. So be careful when you shop for bayberry candles. As of today Amazon still had some, but I’m m sure they won’t last long. Yjsnkvyou got the post. I did enjoy it.
  5. i thought you burned bayberry candles on new years at midnight on the dot i have been doing it wrong all this time explains alot
  6. Thank you for sharing this story! My mother-in-law burned a bayberry candle every Christmas Eve on the window sill at her kitchen sink. When I joined the family, she gave me some of these candles and a red glass candle holder and we have burned them every Christmas Eve since. My boys grew up with this tradition, too. We would burn the bayberry candle in the bathtub with the door closed because we had a cat and did not want it to knock over the candle in the sink when we were gone. My boys are now older and this summer I found two candle holders identical to the one my mother-in-law gave me all those years ago at an antique store and bought one for each of them. My oldest moved out this year and this will be his first year carrying on the tradition of lighting the bayberry candle! I can't wait to give them their bayberry candle and holder!
  7. I am so glad you wrote this. I have ties to Virginia and Vermont but moved to Texas last year. I have been looking all over town for bayberry candles this year and no one has them! Every time I ask, I try to tell shopkeepers about this legend. (I ultimately found some online at the Monticello Shop.) If there was ever a good year for burning a bayberry candle, it's this year. Everyone should be selling them and buying them!

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