Building a Tradition

by Caren Prentice

Blueberry pancakes on Summer Sundays. Gratitudes shared at the Thanksgiving Table. These are some of our family's traditions. But, of all the traditions our family shares, CandleTime during Christmas is the one we love best. It’s the one that gave us a feeling of connection, a sense of belonging to something that is just ours. It’s a connection on some deep, unnameable level that reaches far beyond those few days of December and shapes our sense of kindness, caring, and giving, all year round.

Creating a tradition, especially this tradition, takes repetition. It takes patience. Not exactly easy things to find space for in our fast moving 21st century lives. Here are a few suggestions based on what I’ve learned over all the years doing this tradition with my own kids, with just my husband, and now with our grandchildren. There is magic inside CandleTime. I hope these suggestions will help you find it.

Start—just start!

It’s tempting to wait for the “right” day or until all the candles are in place to begin. I encourage you to let go of that thought! This tradition is about letting go of the need for things to be “perfect” and instead, learning how to show up gracefully for the way things really are.

One year, I was so busy I hadn’t had time to pull our candles together. At the last minute we all went searching through the house for a random candle to light for that first night. No one cared about the other candles. We got just as much, if not more, enjoyment from that one used candle. It was a great lesson in what really matters!

Keep it short!!!

Once you find the rhythm of your CandleTime Tradition, it can be so enjoyable you will be tempted to linger and prolong the moment. I encourage you to keep it to ten minutes—if you’re a big family, fifteen. Most of us are pulled in many directions and knowing CandleTime will be short and sweet is what keeps everyone willing to come back again and again. 

CandleTime isn’t about those big “mic-drop” moments that sweep you off your feet with amazement. CandleTime is about little moments—sometimes even unremarkable moments—that grow over time into a precious feeling of meaning and connection. Trust the power of these little moments to bring the “feeling” of Christmas into your heart and home.

Just do it!

There will be times when people are cranky and tired or running behind schedule, and won’t want to take the time to do CandleTime. I encourage you to do it anyways. We discovered in our family, and I have heard stories from so many others who shared the same experience, that doing a “short and sweet” version shifted everyone’s mood. Even though there were grumps and resistance while gathering together, everyone felt better afterwards and they were glad they’d participated after all.

Then do it again.

CandleTime isn’t a one night event or a one season hit. CandleTime has staying power. What began when our kids were little and continued year after year to bring real meaning and enjoyment to us as a family, adapted quite easily to our life as empty nesters. Watching my daughters begin doing CandleTime with their families—see Alyce’s Story—helped me realize there really is something magical about this tradition. Somehow it still captures the feeling of the elusive “Christmas Spirit” and, unlike my husband and I, that feeling has never grown old.

Allow the magic to unfold.

To all you micro-managers out there, and I was one, the best suggestion I can give to help you create a lasting and meaningful CandleTime tradition is this… 

Let go of micro-managing CandleTime. 

There is magic here. When we try to control and manage everyone’s experience, thoughts, responses and actions, we suffocate that magic. If you can allow the imperfections and realities of living to be a welcome part of your tradition, the magic will have room to unfold. Trust the tradition. It knows what it’s made of. 

May your CandleTimes be blessed,

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Who’s doing the CandleTime Tradition?

Families with Little Ones

Little ones love the candles, the magic, the fun, and attention the tradition brings.

Families with Older
Kids and Teens

The magic of CandleTime can inspire even the most skeptical of teens.  As families grow with the tradition the activities encourage kindness, giving and provide precious memories.

Couples of All Ages

A precious time to connect in ways our everyday lives don’t allow. These few moments will become the favorite part of your day.

Older Adults

Older adults love the sense of purpose and connection the tradition fosters with grandchildren, family members and friends.


There are times in our lives when our friends are our family.  CandleTime is a great way to deepen those connections and build lifelong friendships.

Long Distance with Zoom

If there is one thing we have learned recently — connecting with those we love does not have to be in person!  This tradition works well with a video call to those you want to share with!