Our early American ancestors were the epitome of do it yourself-ers; really, did they have any other choice? Candles were more than a decorative accent in those days, they were a necessity. In the fall, when the slaughter for the upcoming winter took place, the animal fat, or tallow, would be gathered and boiled and candle making would commence. Candle making in those days was a gruelling and smelly job. Tallow had a tendency to become rather foul smelling as the weeks went by, let alone the months, so imagine how delightful the aroma by Christmas time in mid winter!
Somewhere along the line, most likely among the more affluent classes, some enterprising women found that beeswax or bayberry wax made for a far less foul taper. Women gathered bushels of bayberries and boiled them for several hours causing a waxy substance to seep from the berries. This substance floated to the top and once cooled, could be skimmed from the surface in much the same way we skim fat from cooled broth today. It takes approximately 15 pounds of bayberries to render one pound of wax. That's a lot of berries and a lot of work! No wonder they were valued for not only their scent, but for their rarity.
Early American folklore says that lighting a new bayberry candle on Christmas Eve brings health, wealth and prosperity in the coming year.
"A bayberry candle burnt to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket." Many Christians believe that the light of the bayberry candle on Christmas Eve will welcome the Christ child into their homes follwing the tradition that the Bay Tree sheltered the holy family during a storm. Neo-pagans burn the bayberry candle for prosperity and happiness on Yule or the Winter Solstice. So, it seems that whatever your beliefs, the bayberry candle imparts nothing but sweet scent and good tidings. May your bayberry burn bright this holiday season!