The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and Its History

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Being from New England, the legend of the Bayberry Candle is one of my favorite Christmas legends.  I thought it 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.

The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and Its History

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.

The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and Its History

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.

bayberries

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. 

The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and Its History

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.

The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and Its History

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.

The Legend of the Bayberry Candle and Its History

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.

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