Before LEDs and lasers — even before Edison first hung a string of lights in his lab — we’ve used the flicker of candlelight to help us celebrate the winter season.
Nestled in Old City Park, there’s a cluster of 19th century buildings known as the Dallas Heritage Village.
Once a year, they’re bathed in the glow of hundreds of candles, lighting the way for old-fashioned carolers and St. Nick himself.
Museum director Melissa Prycer says they’ve been doing it since 1972. For generations, families have been drawn by an intimacy you don’t get with flashier light shows.
“I know we’re supposed to be serious historians, but it’s magical,” she says. “You’ve got your firelight, your lantern light and your candles and that’s it.”
The clergy of Temple Emanu-El are pretty familiar with that magic. Cantor Vicky Glikin says every Jewish holiday starts with a candle.
“I think there’s an agency in choosing to light a light … it’s beautiful to look at obviously and it’s, at the same time, incredibly powerful but also incredibly ephemeral.”
There’s Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, and of course, Hanukkah, the eight day holiday ending on Dec. 20. Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen says the temple holds a special ceremony for the wintertime celebration.
“We dim the lights in the sanctuary and all the families bring in their chanukiah and we have those glowing lights surrounding us on all sides and there’s just this quiet hum of breath.”
Candle holders similar to the chanukiah are also central to Kwanzaa, which starts Dec. 26. Akwete Tyehimbe, who owns the Pan African Connection shop in South Dallas, says each of the seven candles on the kinara are symbolic.
This is the 50th year of Kwanzaa, which began Monday and runs through Jan. 1. The holiday is a celebration of African American culture and accomplishments. Here Renee Miche'al Jones, known as Sister Renee, lights the Umoja (Unity) candle representing the first day of Kwanzaa at the @pac_dallas. by @nhunsingerone
“For seven days, we’re all talking about unity. We’re all talking about creativity and purpose and collective work and responsibility … You’re dealing with something that is so very simple like light but is so powerful.”
The light they give off is weak — they only last a couple of hours. And they’re often a fire hazard. Frankly, we’ve got better options for lighting a Christmas tree. But celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa – or simply winter – without the dancing flame of a candle seems far too dark.