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With Christmas right around the corner, millions of people around the world put up decorations, bring out the holiday movies, go shopping for gifts, and schedule in their Christmas church service along with all the holiday parties. You may, like me, have nostalgic memories of grand Christmas services with sounds of bells and voices of the choir echoing off the frosty windows, an epic Christmas tree sprinkled with shiny glass orbs that reflect every glimpse of light, a stage set for a skit about baby Jesus’ birth, and a multitude of warm, flickering candle lights bouncing off the walls and illuminating the space with the glow of joy, hope and all the warm, fuzzy feelings of Christmas. Lighting candles is a holiday tradition in many churches, either for the beautiful ambience it brings to a nighttime service, or to represent the solemn nature of the occasion. Whatever the reason, I think we all can agree that glowing lights bring a certain amount of joy to special celebrations. What most of us probably wouldn’t consider is the danger involved in this tradition.

Did you know that roughly 4 percent of all church fires are started by candles? Imagine driving by your church the day after Christmas only to see ashes and burnt remains of what was a wonderful celebration. Even worse, consider the possibility of a fire breaking out at church wedding because of a stray candle flame. Regardless of warnings about fire hazards and new technology available to detect fires before they start, fire accidents still occur due to unattended or badly placed candles. One recent example of a church fire started by candles happened in Dagenham, London earlier this year. Firefighters were alerted to a fire at Church Elm Lane on a Sunday morning. While everyone in the church was able to evacuate without injuries, the building itself took on substantial damage. A team of 35 firefighters with six fire engines battled the fire for two hours before they were able to get it under control, and by that time about a third of the church was badly damaged.

Many churches are particularly susceptible to destruction by fire because of their old age and their weak structure. In 2012, a fire caused by candles broke out at First United Methodist Church, a 102-year-old church in Ada, Ohio. While church members maintained a positive outlook and used the tragedy to strengthen the bond of the community, stating that the congregation itself is the church rather than the church building, the historic church being destroyed by the fire was nevertheless a major loss. Yet another tragic church fire took place last May in Tuscon, Arizona. The St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church was 65 years old and displayed hundreds of “icons” – iconic art pieces – on its walls. An unattended candle set the church on fire overnight and claimed over $1 million in damage to buildings on the property of the parish. The damage to the church building itself was irreparable, and the church is no longer in use.

As with this last example, one of the greatest risks churches take by using candles is the possibility of losing historical art, icons and the buildings themselves, erasing so much valuable history that can never be reclaimed. Because church buildings are built as sacred places of worship, their architects and craftsmen have long paid attention to detail and beauty within their structures, dating back even to the early centuries after the death of Christ. In fact, art historians consider churches to hold some of the most valuable information about the eras in which they were built. The age of a church can often be determined by the architectural forms and structures featured in its design. After the year of origin is established, historians are able to link many artifacts, paintings and other articles found within the building to their eras and make new discoveries about the culture, traditions, and religious beliefs that were prevalent when the church was built and throughout its existence. Architecture is especially telling, as it can reveal what techniques the builders were capable of at that time and highlights stylistic elements that were trending in that era. Altars made of wood or stone often feature detailed carvings depicting symbolic religious imagery or illustrating a Biblical story. Older churches usually contain priceless historic artwork as well in the form of painted wooden altarpieces, sculptures, stained glass windows or paintings on the walls and ceilings. Although it’s not as valued in our culture today, in the past churches hired the best artists to do lavish paintings, statues and sculptural details within the church. The goal was to bring awe-inspiring beauty and perfection to every surface of their church structure in order to honor the God they worshiped. Churches were truly considered to be sacred and were entered with great reverence and solemnity. We are fortunate to have a number of historic churches remaining that offer so much valuable information about churches of the past. However, there are many churches that have burned down over the years, tragically leaving no one and nothing to tell their story.

Despite the beautiful lights that candles have to offer, it’s a sad fact that they do pose a threat to the safety of our loved ones and our places of worship. Fortunately, there are alternatives we can use to get similar results without the danger of starting a fire. In the past, candlelight was the only option, but now we have a myriad of other ways to provide light in a church setting, including LED lights, electric candles and yes, even glow sticks.

Of course, there are pros and cons to each of these methods of lighting. LED lights are long lasting and are very bright but they have the ability to achieve different kinds of mood lighting, depending on their surrounding materials. For example, plain LED lights will create a harsh light, not comparable to candles, but when placed in a fountain they will reflect their light in different directions, smoothing the brightness, and if placed in a frosted glass container, they will be dimmed to a gentle glow. On the downside, LEDs are quite pricey, they often require the purchase of many to create a full environmental feeling and once installed, the achievable lighting effects will be limited.

Electric candles are generally considered to be the “safe” version of regular candles. They are able to imitate the flickering of a real candle quite well and are not harsh in their brightness. However, there are a number of problems with electric candles. The number one issue is that they are either battery-powered, which will run out of a charge quickly, or they must be plugged into an outlet, which limits placement and runs the risk of looking tacky – a look that no church wants. They are also pretty expensive because they are meant for multiple uses and are made of a sustaining material. Another problem is that although electric candles can mimic the look of a burning flame, they aren’t able to shine too brightly because of the plastic covering around them.

Lastly, we have the option of using glow sticks. Glow sticks are safe, eco-friendly and can be stored for up to two years without compromising the quality of the product. Unlike real candles, they don’t create a waxy mess and don’t require any special holders or containers. They can provide glow for 9-12 hours and can be disposed of easily after use. Glow sticks don’t provide the same intensity of light as real candles or LED lights do, but what they lack in power they make up for in low costs. Also, for those handling the lights at church, glow sticks are much safer for children and adults alike. They come in a variety of colors, and with a little creativity, you can create a range of different lighting effects.

One of the best parts about using glow sticks for lighting and ambience in a special church service is the ability to easily customize the sticks to meet the decoration needs of the church. Large glow sticks can be held and carried down the aisles in place of candles. Glow bracelets and necklaces can be worn during dance performances or children’s choir. In addition, with DIY projects in trend for even the most formal of event decorations, glow sticks have already proven themselves to have amazing potential for safe and fun lighting. One project, for instance, involves pouring the contents of a glow stick into a mason jar, shaking it up to spread and splatter the glowing material all over the inside of the jar and then exposing to light before viewing in the dark. The result is a glowing lantern that appears to have bold bottom lighting and something similar to fireflies spreading light throughout the inside of the jar. It’s amazing what you can do with a glow stick and a little creativity.

In light of the risks that candle lights bring to both the church and its members, would you consider trying the safer and more modern alternative of glow sticks to light your Christmas service? You might even create a new holiday tradition – one that’s safe, affordable and full of possibilities.

Looking to get some glowsticks for your next service or event? Our wholesale glowstick pricing helps keep the cost down while allowing you to have a safe alternative to candles!

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