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Holiday Traditions: The everlasting red candle on Christmas Eve

Stewart Shipman and his family live in Laramie. And they have a pretty unique tradition that has lasted over 70 years. He told Wyoming Public Radio the story.

In 1949, the first year my parents spent Christmas together, they weren't married. My dad was a sergeant in charge of a motor pool for the occupation army. My mom was one of the first Department of Defense teachers. So she's teaching the kids of the servicemen and supporting people in Japan. They spent Christmas Eve together. My mom bought a tall red candle specially for that and burnt it. For reasons we don't quite know why, maybe because she grew up during the Depression, she saved the stub.

Things progressed. Next Valentine's Day they got engaged. They had to drive eight miles in a Jeep to a telephone where they could call the states and tell their families. She finished out the school year and went home on the boat to make some preparations, get some stuff ready for the wedding, which was supposed to be in August. While she's home, the Korean War breaks out. She's on the boat coming back. My dad's units have already been sequestered. She can't get in touch. She does this crazy assertive stuff. They managed to get married on the planned day. Some general has a cottage up on Mount Fuji, let them use it for their honeymoon. Then he [Stewart’s dad?] goes off to Korea.

So that Christmas, she takes the candle stub from the previous year, buys a new candle, melts them down together and mixes two candles. Somehow manages to get one of them to him. So he burns his in his foxhole in Korea, she burns hers at a missionaries place in Japan. The Christmas after that, they're back together. They take the two stubs, melt them together with the new ones and make a new candle to burn on Christmas Eve. And that's how it progresses.

For the most part, you take the stubs from the previous one, melt them with a new one, make a new candle. All the time there's this narrative going along with it about who's at the site of the Christmas candle being burned. So we're writing this down as children get added to the family, lots of the same addresses and then, you know, we grew up as children and started moving away from the family. So that's also recorded when that happens and you have to make multiple candles. So 1975 I think my oldest sister had one in San Diego. The rest of us had one back in Denver. Melt the stubs together, put a new one in and make a new candle. This goes on and on over the years.

So the one that I'll burn this year in California at my son's place has wax from all of these different places, all these different Christmases since 1949. Christmases on six different continents, 18 different countries, 17 U.S. states, and I think more than 100 discreet addresses.”

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. She has won a regional Murrow award for her reporting on mental health and firearm owners. During her time leading the Wyoming Public Media newsroom, reporters have won multiple PMJA, Murrow and Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism Awards. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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