So, representing the O'Neill side of the family today, we talked about Christmas customs in Ireland. They are very similar to the American customs we celebrate. The two that we focused on were: lighting of a red candle in the window on Christmas Eve, and Boxing Day (December 26).
I really like the symbolism of putting a candle in the window to show our hospitality for all weary travelers.
CANDLE IN THE WINDOW
Many homes in Ireland still today will show a lighted candle, or perhaps todays equivalent, and much safer, electric lights, in the window of their home on Christmas Eve. This stems from the custom that to show a light in the window lighted the way of a stranger out after dark. It goes back to most ancient times, when the laws of hospitality were stronger and not abused. To have a light in your window on Christmas Eve to welcome the stranger meant that you were welcoming the Holy Family too. To have no light meant that you shared the guilt of the Innkeeper at Bethlehem who said, "No Room"!
I think it's eye-opening to realize how the "laws of hospitality" have definitely grown weaker from generation to generation. Nowadays, who really would open their home to a complete stranger?? Growing up, my parents hosted many friends-of-friends, or people-visiting-for-work-purposes, etc. They may have been strangers at the beginning, but some created truly life-long connections.
Several years ago, we hosted two college students who were on a choral concert tour. They were with us for maybe 12 hours, most of which time was spent sleeping. I don't remember their names, but I will always remember the experience: making up the guest room, driving them home from the concert, talking about their college and choral experiences, introducing them to our toddler, showing them hospitality.
We should do more of that. Open our home, expand our little world to include the unknown, the different, the potentially life-long friend.