Christmas Traditions

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights were for the longest time the only decorations people could afford for Christmas. At that time people used candles, but most people could not afford to use candles except at festive moments and therefore used them at Christmas. Still today it is the masses of light that are a characteristic of Christmas. Nowadays it is not only candlelight but also electric light in all shapes and sizes. Before the coming of electricity Icelanders had to endure a darkness of a scale the modern man finds difficult to conceive of.  

Fish oil, either shark or cod liver oil, or even from seals, was the most common source of light, and this had to be used sparingly. In the rural society of old, where people spent most of their time indoors in the baðstofa (which was a joint livingroom and bedroom in the old Icelandic farmhouses), the only source of light most often was a single lamp which obviously only provided a limited amount of light. This single lamp was usually not lit until it was completely dark outside as the limited resources could only be spent when dire necessity dictated. At this time, candles were mostly made from drippings which were expensive and therefore candles were not used on a daily basis in people´s homes. On Christmas Eve the tradition was, however, that every member of the household received his or her own candle. It must have been a festive moment when all the candles were lit on Christmas Eve as the light then suddenly became much brighter than anything people were used to. It is still considered important to put up extra lights, both candles and electric lights, around Christmas time; this in spite of the fact that nowadays there is no shortage of lights in our everyday life. In the advent of Christmas there is hardly a house to be found where there are no extra lights in windows and that must point us to the fact that in spite of ever increasing quality of living, more light can always be allowed into our lives, especially when the days are short and dark.