Giving open flames to kids on Christmas Eve.

Imagine if one night a year, your church held a special service and when you walked in, they gave you a Ninja Throwing Star. That would be a nightmare right? Just throwing stars stuck in hymnals and Bibles and legs as far as the eye could see. It would be a bloody mess. But it’s not that different from what a lot of churches do on Christmas Eve.

My favorite part of this service is when we light the candles and sing a few songs with the lights off. It is honestly a really beautiful experience, but it’s also funny. The other 364 days of the year, parents work diligently to keep their children away from torches. We put covers on our electrical outlets, hide matches and lighters in hard to reach places and yell if they get anywhere near a hot oven. But on Christmas Eve, it’s fire time.

Here are a few ways to multiply the fun of having a lit Christmas candle in a church setting:

1. Blow out other people’s candles.
I don’t think I have to explain this one, but I promise, it is delightful. My brothers and I turned this into an art, because you can’t just come on out and blow it. You have to do this weird, breathe out of the side of your face move in which you send a gust of wind with the accuracy of a sniper at someone else’s candle.

2. Play with the wax.
In addition to melting your candle on the shoes of family members, it’s also fun to see how long you can get the wax without it breaking off. You have to hold it at the right angle though. Tilted enough to make it all pool like one of those stilagtitesdifficulttospellcorrectly things in caves but not so tilted that the weight of the wax breaks it off.

3. Try to keep the candle.
As soon as that last song is finished, it’s like the spell that convinced your parents it was OK for you to have fire in church is broken. And it’s nearly impossible to keep the candle. I never actually executed this move, it’s like the holy grail of candle tricks. There are three people you need to watch out for: Your parents, the ushers and that guy with the box that collects them all at the end. I don’t like that guy. I think all that power went to his head. He didn’t consider himself the “guy with a candle box,” instead he was always kind of smug and seemed to think he was the “gatekeeper of flame.”

Those were my tricks, but I am certain that when it comes to giving kids torches, I have missed quite a few.

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  1. createdtopraise says

    We have six kids. Do you really think we’d give each of them a candle when we can barely keep up with them? Oh no, my friend. Rather, we do this “family group huddle” thing with one candle. I hold the candle while Daddy and all the kids gather ’round. Everyone thinks we’re just a beautiful, loving, intimate family. Nope. We just know better than to hand “disaster sticks” to that many kids at once.

    • Shell says

      As a fellow mother of six, I totally get this, and likewise people point to our family and smile about how lovely and close we are, if only they knew the truth

  2. Steve C says

    Our local fire department sent out a letter to all the churches in town a couple years ago- no more candles in the congregation except by permit. Even with our permit (for “enclosed candles”) we are not allowed to give candles to anyone under 18. Drive a 3-ton suv at 60mph in heavy traffic? Yes. Enlist to eradicate terrorists in mideast countries? No problem. Elect the leader of the free world? OK with us. But No Candles. Boy, we set one visitor on fire one year (oops), and tradition goes right out the wndow…

  3. Queen of Carrots says

    I was too sick to go to the Christmas Eve service last year, but my husband took the kids and our 3yo daughter asked to sit with her best friend, under the supervising eye of her mom, the pastor’s wife. My husband thought this would be fine. Until he looked into the pew ahead and realized she was setting herself on fire.

    I never quite made full sense of the story (I was VERY sick at the time) but somehow she made it home unscathed. Consider flame-retardant clothing for Christmas Eve wear.

  4. Jan says

    Hey Jon, I’m a worship leader and yes, we are one of “those churches”. The first year we did this my husband stood at the back in case the church caught on fire. Almost every single year I struggle to keep a straight face during this time – which is supposed to be worshipful – because there are kids all doing the exact things you wrote about. However, this year it was the sound techs that made me laugh. All in all, I’m not sure it was as holy of a moment as we had hoped.

  5. Lucy says

    We would always try to burn someone’s hair. Not while it was still attached, mind you. We girls would pull out a few strands and give them to the boys to burn. It doesn’t smell so great, as one might imagine.

  6. JZ says

    My wife had her hair catch on fire because some little kid wasn’t paying attention… or was he?

    At any rate, now when we go to candlelight services, we leave as soon as the ushers start lighting up.

  7. bignateym says

    When my brother and I were younger as PK’s we had to attend too many weddngs. We always hoped for candles at the table and plastic tableware. You would be amazed at the sculptures we could make fusing forks spoons and knives together. The best part-since we weren’t causing problems mom and dad just let it go. We still laugh about it.

  8. K Storm says

    This is always so beautiful when you don’t have kids with you. I am in the choir and found out that someone gave my 3 year old a candle at Christmas Eve when I was up on stage singing. My heart stopped for a moment thinking about what could have happened…my child could have burned down the entire church! Yikes and Merry Christmas!

  9. Just Me says

    You forgot the “cool” kid from the youth group who convinces the 6 year old standing in the row of pews behind him that he doesn’t get burned by running his fingers through the flame. Then, in turn the 6 year old, drunk with the power of fire, does burn himself because the cool kid didn’t explain about not really running his fingers through the actual flame. Cue the squeals and tears from the 6 year old and the hard look from the cool kid’s mom to said cool kid….LOL…ahh, good times, good times LOL

  10. Elizabeth says

    A couple of years ago, when we were all singing with candles at the Christmas Eve service at my church, we all started smelling something burning. Slowly, the aroma broke the spell of the candlelight singing as, one by one, we craned our necks searching for the cause of the smell. Turns out, someone (an adult, mind you) had set her hair on fire. She was close to the back of the sanctuary, and the last several pews were struggling to keep their composure for the rest of the song. Instead of talking about Sweet Baby Jesus at the end of the service, we were looking to see how much of her hair had been singed by the flame. Christmas memories..

  11. Barry says

    I have a suggestion for a future post if you are open to that… I was in a Men’s Bible Study this morning where we realized that several of us had been to lock-ins when we were in the youth groups as kids where we watched Tim Conway/Don Knotts movies (specifically “The Apple Dumpling Gang” and “Private Eyes”).

    Also “Hell House” haunted houses on Halloween. Halloween actually has lots of possibilities because you can also poke fun at the other alternative Halloween options like “Harvest Festival”, etc.

    Love your site!

  12. Natalie Witcher says

    Our church abandonded the fire and went to glow sticks. Not the same effect, but still, it looked cool.

  13. Anonymous says

    It may have looked nice, but the candlelit service always made me nervous. I’m in the choir and have shaky hands. I always was worried about lighting some girl’s hair on fire.

    I remember playing the “blow out” game a few times but I never tried the “out of the side of the mouth” technique. Must do this Christmas.

    The candle box Nazis were intense at my church. They were always standing at the end of row before that last song even ended WITH a cup of water for you to dip your candle in, so that even if you stole your candle back it was useless.

  14. DJ says

    Every year, I always wondered what would if happen if something caught on fire…and every year I was disappointed.

  15. theoquest says

    Smoldering hair is always a neat trick. You just have to be really careful not to stand behind the TBN lady, because that much hairspray = combustibility!

  16. Will C says

    My church had a banquet this Christmas and had candles on each table. Well, all of the high-schoolers were sitting at one table, and eventually several people made a small bonfire out of candles and napkins. Eventually one of the parents intervened.

  17. The Gang's All Here! says

    This year I sat behind and to the right of a girl who delighted making char marks on the edge of the pew in front of her – IN THE BUILDING WE DO NOT OWN!!!! And her father sat behind her on the other side, blissfully worshipping with one hand held high and eyes closed in reverence. Shame of it all: she was 15!!!!!!!!

    And that lady with the TBN hair? There’s a post in there somewhere!

  18. Beloved MaMa says

    as long as we don’t hand them the tray full of grape juice and crackers, everything should be just fine

  19. Steve C says

    Like Natalie’s church, after the fire department said no more candles, we went to glow sticks for a couple years. Year one, pretty cool. Year two, not so much. The kids were on to us and there was a mad rush for any glow stick not claimed by an adult. Wait for the cue to snap them? Not a chance. Green glow sticks flying everywhere. The whole place looked like a Phish concert.

  20. chevette says

    LOL! This is too funny. When I was a kid my grandma’s church used to have a “La Posada” celebration every year during Christmas time. Its a So. Cal. version of a Mexican tradition where kids pretending to be Mary and Joseph go to each Sunday school room and ask if there is any room at the inn. Someone in each room always says “no” until you get to the final room. The person in that room invites Mary and Joseph into the “stable” where there is a party and a pinata. Well behind Mary and Joseph was a procession of about 20 kids ranging in age from 2 to 15 — all holding candles! I remember always being the last one in line because I didn’t want one of those kids behind me to catch me on fire (I’d seen one too many of those stop, drop, and roll videos). I also didn’t want to catch anyone in front of me on fire, so I always blew my candle out. But the sweet, considerate Reverend Acosta always came and relit my candle each time — always perplexed as to why my candle would continually blow out 2 or 3 times during the procession every year.

  21. Anonymous says

    The current and two past fire chiefs in town belong to my parents’ church. This is a 1903 building with a gorgeous, lovely, mostly-wood interior. I don’t imagine Mssrs Hart, Sole, or Perry worship much on Christmas Eve….
    -Mrs. G.

  22. sara says

    All I know is that a few people that were at my house before last Christmas Eve’s service are smiling really big at this post. They refused to obey the detailed light passing instructions that we receive every year, a tradition as predictable as Silent Night at our church. You know who you are.

  23. Gretchen says

    In response to “natalie witcher”…glow sticks replacing candles is a travesty. Glow sticks belong in raves. Not Sweet Baby Jesus services. (Our church made a change for 2-3 years and I hated every single green-glowing moment of it. And I was on the platform, so I had to smile and pretend I didn’t think it was the lamest thing EVER.)
    Thankfully we went back to candles this year.

  24. Anonymous says


    I’ll never forget the Christmas Eve Vesper (why do we call it vespers still???) service when my brother caught my sister’s hair on fire. That’s probably my most vivid church memory as a child.

    My DS is 4 and I prepared him for weeks in advance this year that candle time was coming. Santa had nothing on candles; the best threat to hold over a 4 year old is that if he wasn’t good, he couldn’t have his own candle on Christmas Eve. We ended up in two services that had candles and this kid was good as gold. If we could only do candles as often as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (which is a topic I’m expecting from you any day now), my son would be a perfect angel all year long.


  25. Kristina says

    Go to an Easter Vigil service at your local Catholic church sometime. We have a real fire to light the candles from, and sometimes we actually bring it inside the building. The first time my husband went to one, he almost converted right then and there just for the coolness factor of the fire. If there had been ninja stars…

  26. kimana83 says

    This is hilarious. So true. My brother let his 4-year-old son have one. Never did figure out what he was smoking. Ooh, now there’s an idea: do you suppose the candles we use on Christmas Eve (that are only used on Christmas Eve – I mean, how often do you see those 4-inch tall, half-inch wide white candles on a mantle?) are laced with something? Then someone starts it burning, and the Something fills the room and everyone gets a happy, glowy feeling and allows their child’s torch to be lit with an element that could burn the church down. Hmm. I wonder…

  27. relupin says

    Power of the box holding candle Nazi? Who would want that?!! When you’re the taker of candles, you’re also the GIVER of candles (which my Dad makes me do every year). At first the power is cool…

    …but then you realize you’re responsible for determining whether or not to give that toddler a death stick since its parents don’t seem to care.

    After the first scream of quite literally burning pain, you stop pretending to sing “Silent Night” and slip behind the piano and out the door.

  28. Laura says

    One year my brother took his his candle out and replaced it with 3 birthday candles. Like he said, “It’s Jesus’ birthday.” His flame was about 3 inches higher than everyone else’s and my family was in state of silent convulsions. I’m sure the choir got a kick out of watching us.

  29. Anonymous says

    HA!……I have been laughing out loud (and it’s 2am — so of course it woke my husband who now thinks I’m delerious)

    Throwing stars indeed!

    I just found your blog thanks to Marko at Youth Specialties…………..this is great stuff!

  30. B-Rad says

    Our church did a HIlarious video demonstration on the proper way to light, hold, and then extinguish our candles during our Christmas service. It seemed to work.

  31. Maid Marian says

    Ah, the candles. When I was growing up, one of my friends taught me how to warm the candle in your hands for a good chunk of the service, and then you could bend it into cool shapes. The best were flattening & twisting into a spiral and “the loop.”

    I was pretty good at sneaking them out of the service… (No one would suspect little old me, probably because I was NOT a boy. I’m still not.) And when I was a teen, I liked to turn them in to display my creativity. Yeah.

    As a mom, I actually let my 4 1/2 son have a candle (okay, my husband did, not sure what he was thinking…) so I was watching him like a hawk. Halfway into “Silent Night,” I peered in wonder in the semi-darkness as the little hairs above his forehead began to curl back on their own and I realized he was singeing them even though the flame was a foot away!! Christmas pictures were funny that year…

  32. Chelsea says

    That is probably my least favorite part of the entire service every year. It’s the biggest fire hazard I’ve ever seen. I have a slight panic attack each Christmas eve and I can just imagine NPCC catching on fire and burning to the ground. no good.

  33. Miss Hannah says

    Fact: Christmas Eve, like Easter Sunday, is one of those times that you are expected to look better than usual at church.

    Fact: Looking better, for me at least, always involves a lot of aerosol hairspray, which is highly volatile.

    Fact: I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS end up sitting in front of a family that has about half a dozen kids under the age of five, all of which are brandishing mini-torches, making it impossible for me to concentrate on the lyrics to the carols because it’s hard to sing “Oh come let us adfore Him” when in your head you are repeatedly begging Jesus, “Please don’t let my hair catch fire. God, please don’t let my hair catch fire. Oh please, oh please, oh please…”

    Candlelight service stresses me out.

  34. Amanda says

    But on Christmas Eve, it’s fire time.

    Seriously, I don’t even know how you come up with this stuff. Hilarious.

  35. Tariel says

    My pastor has been known to specify that we are not allowed to use lit candles as swords and engage our neighbors in Inigo Montoya- like duels. I don’t think he was talking to the kids though….

  36. Kitty says

    Our church doesn’t do the whole candles on Christmas Eve thing anymore. Something about liability issues. I miss that. I still have about a gazillion old candles I was able to sneak out of the sanctuary. I was like, the master of gathering up as many candles as I could as soon as the service was over and stuffing them in my pockets before we got to the door with the candle box holding dude, and then looking innocent as all getout on the way past him. oh yeah.

  37. Aili says

    Here in Australia we have Carols by Candlelight every Christmas (, which, fortunately, is held outdoors, and involves town members gathering in a local park to sing carols by, well…pretty self-explanatory, actually.

    Anyway, my favourite childhood memories of these events involve sitting, for the 2-3 hours of CbyC, with my candle in its little paper plate holder, seeing how many things I could catch alight without starting a bushfire and buring my town down (my plate, my program, my brother’s plate, piles of dry grass…).

    And, to keep it in context, we were in high summer, in dry and drought ravaged, bushfire-prone, Australia. I’m amazed there were no disastrous consequences.

  38. Sayward says

    as the lights dimmed for silent night, our christmas eve candle lit closer, my mom would start frantically tying our hair into buns and pony tails so ‘the people behind us didn’t set us on fire.’ while she was doing this, my brothers would drip as much wax as they could on everything in sight.

  39. k8 says


    …i had a friend who would drip her wax onto her bulletin, then crunch up the paper so it crumbled all over the floor… a treat for our church custodian.

  40. Katie says

    oh fun stuff! my brothers, sister, and i were never allowed to hold one when we were little, but now that we are “mature enough” we can! and we play with them. haha we cause quite a ruckus(which really is only a ruckus to our parents!) it’s sibling bonding :)

  41. Heather says

    Growing up, we moved to the outside walls of the sanctuary to do this. I don’t remember that many problems. Either I’m blocking them from my childhood, or the fact that everyone else could see you made everyone behave.

  42. Nat says

    we did it every yr.
    me and the boys (i was the tomboy at our church) used to swish our fingers through the flames. We learnt pretty early that if you do it fast it doesn't hurt. We'd always try and get one of the girls to do it, without telling her about the fast part ;) She'd burn herself and yelp right in the middle of the song. Best part was if you got someone who was a classic 'good-kid', or one of the girls doing a solo. hehe

  43. Chessie says

    When I was nine, I attended my first candle-light service. My family sat in the "nosebleed" section of the huge church and I played with my candle the entire service. Scratching the wax off, pushing the candle through the paper ring repeatedly, ect. A few seconds after my candle was lit, hot wax slid down and through the gaping hole that was now the paper ring. It hit my finger and I flung my candle forward, hitting the man in front of me. Luckily he did not catch fire! 11 years later, my candle and paper ring are held hostage from me until lighting time.

  44. oldefashionedgirl says

    Ha ha ha!! I love this service. Once a lady was squeezing past my friend and her hair caught on fire! It wasn't serious, and went out by itself in a second. Fun stuff:)

  45. Rachel says

    We have a candlelight memorial service every year, and my little girl (who was five at the time) was handed a candle to carry. They have the children carry the candles in. Really sweet, right? Except my daughter has really wispy, fine hair. Just perfect for igniting. Guess what happened…the "spirit" of the evening was broken as I'm screaming "Somebody put out my child's hair!!!"

    We switched to the battery operated ones the next year.

  46. carolinee says

    my family goes to church at the naval academy for christmas eve. my candle was broken about halfway down. the flame was very unsteady. a lady in front of me insisted on clinking candles like glasses during a toast. twas quite the night before christmas…..

  47. says

    In high school, I went to a Christian candle light service, not Christmas Eve. But there was singing and hugging, general closeness. And I hugged someone with my non-candle arm… and lit the back of a man's head on fire. Needless to say I am a college graduate who doesn't light my candle unless I'm going to be standing still.

  48. B says

    I have really long hair (even braided, it reaches my waist), and I am TERRIFIED every year that some kid behind me will tilt his candle in the wrong direction. Considering that we are packed into the pews better than sardines in a can, there is NO room to stop, drop, and roll in that scenario. So every year I have to, once I wake up from the exact same sermon that was preached last Christmas, either pull my hair up into a bun or pull it over my own shoulder so I can faithfully concentrate on numbers 1-3 above. ;-)

  49. Inspector Karamazov says

    Last year at christmas eve, I stole a bunch of those candles. And then lit them in my room.

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