For me, Shabbat is a tradition that’s all about family. It begins at sunddown on Friday eve [18 minutes before sundown to be exact] and lasts until late Saturday–every single week year round. It’s a time when I stop doing any work, including housework, turn off the phones, the computer, the TV and just spend time with my family. Shabbat is our oasis of calm after a hectic week, and lighting our candles begins the calm. Satuday is literally observed as our day of quiet reflection and family time.
Every Friday night, 18 minutes before sundown Jewish women all over the world light their candles. It only takes a few moments, but it’s SUCH a beautiful tradition and marks the beginning of our Shabbat. After the candles are lit we eat a special meal together in our dining room and share the Challah.
Many women light their candles on the dining table. In fact, I believe the candles are technically supposed to illuminate [and last through] the meal. I light my candles on a table near the dining room, in view of, but I think that they are actually correct and I’m off the mark a bit. I’m just set in my ways though, and I have a small children in my home that I don’t want to touch the candles. The dining table may be just a bit too tempting for them! I light my candles in front of photos of my family. It works for me. I use tea lights and place them in crystal holders that are only used for Shabbat. Most homes I’ve been to also use tea lights and tend to place the lights in something ornate, often silver candelabras. As long as you’re making the setting beautiful and honouring a tradition, I don’t think the holder matters.
Why tea lights? Well, there’s a very important reason. You can’t blow the candles out! They have to run their course and extinguish themselves. Therefore, tea lights or equivilent are perfect because they only burn for a few hours. A taper would be dangerous to leave unattended overnight. Regardless of what type of candle you use, make sure they are placed somewhere safe, heat resistant and away from all dangers and out of reach of small children.
So what to do exactly? Well, you light one candle for each member of your immediate family, and one candle for anyone you’re concerned about or want to make special mention of. I light four every week, with my candle in the middle because we’re a family of four. If there’s a neighbour or friend [Jewish or not] that I’m concerned about, I’ll light a candle for them too.
The woman in the house lights the candles for her family. Girls and unmarried women only light one, unless they are running the household. If there is no woman in the house it’s okay for the man to light them. Otherwise it isn’t traditional for them to do so. Children are encouraged to watch and take part in this tradition.
So what do we say? How do we do it? Well we light the candle for each member of the family individually and I chatter outloud about the blessings I hope for. I literally say, “I light this candle for me” [I'm the candle in the middle because I am the woman of the house, and therefore the family nucleus] I light it for my health, my safety, my happiness, my concerns/hopes for the week ahead. Then I move on to my husband, who’s candle is always on my left where he first stood when we married. I say the same for his candle. “I light this candle for my husband Jamie, for his health, safety, happiness…” etc. and any concerns that are current that I wish to bring up. Finally I light a candle for my son Jack and go through this process again. Once the candles are lit, I put my arms around them in the air, and circle the candles three times with my arms, drawing the flame’s energy toward me. After the third time I cover my eyes and say the Shabbat candle blessing in both hebrew and English. It goes like this:
Barukh atah adonai, eloheinu, melekh ha’olam asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu l’had’lik neir shel Shabbat.
Blessed are you, Lord, our G-d, king of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Shabbat. (Amen)
With that I leave the candles to burn brightly and extinguish themselves. I feel that the energy in my home completely changes once our candles are lit. The candle lighting time changes every week [obviously] so here’s a handly guide to help you know when to light them:
It’s now time to go enjoy Shabbat!