Welcome lights are just that, candles placed out front of a door to welcome people in. They are used during the dark season when it is cold, especially in places that have no sun, to let people know they are welcome to enter.
Even though welcome candles are pretty, they have an important function in Norway. Because lights are left on all the time indoors during the dark season, it is difficult to know if shops are open as many have different closing times. Commercial businesses use welcome candles to let people know they are open for business. Private homes use them to tell people where a party is, to welcome visitors or to celebrate on special occasions such as Christmas and New Years. The candles are placed in the snow so there is no risk of fire.
Today there are many types of welcome candles, here are the main ones:
These welcome candles are the most common, especially used by commercial businesses. They are placed on the stairs or on the corners of the stoop just outside.
Welcome candles are also put into lanterns. The lanterns sit on stairs, on corners or the stoop out front. They are most common for private homes to use because they are more elegant than the stoop candles. However, certain stores use these too to advertise that they are open for business. Lanterns can be used inside and out for private homes and commercial businesses. I have seen stores inside shopping centers use them, and then they serve as just welcome candles (as we know the whole shopping center is open for business). Regular candles and tea lights can be used for the light and it is trendy to have two or several lanterns together. Interestingly, I have never seen these lanterns hang, only sitting on floors or on tables.
The picture above is a good example of how shops use them to encourage people to visit their store. The store is inside the shopping center but they have placed a portable sign out on the walking street saying ‘open’. It is a little hard to read in the dark (I took the picture above at 2pm in the afternoon) so the lantern is used as a second signifier that the store is open for business (meaning that someone that day took the time to light it letting people know they are now welcome to visit the store).
Only for outside, these are candle holders that dig into the ground, well, snow, to hold up the candle. Sometimes we get so much snow that a welcome candle sitting on a stoop will get buried in minutes. Spike lights can be seen easily and can be placed where there is thick snow. They make it easier for clean up too – they won’t freeze to the ground, like stoop candles, and you can find them. With stoop candles you have to remember where you have put them otherwise a snow fall could cover them up and you’ll not be able to find the used containers again until the snow melts in spring.
Welcome lights are used by all types of businesses – doctor’s surgeries, charities, car dealerships, banks, and the one above using welcome candles on spikes is a car battery store. (Yes, Norwegian men appreciate being welcomed too!)
Basket welcome lights are generally for inside as they are usually made out of wood, but I have seen a few outside on tables or on stones. Because of the wicker, baskets have a glass cylinder for the candle to keep the wood from burning.
It seems that candle cages are an outside alternative to basket cages, however, they wouldn’t go well in a windy area as they have no shielding. I would think these welcome lights would be used to decorate outside tables and settings. I have seen them used in gardens during summer and autumn, when people are having dinner outside. You could possibly get robust candle cages for permanent outside use but the ones below would be brought indoors after their use is finished – the Norwegian winter would be too harsh for them to stay outside for too many days.
Most candelabras use tea lights, as the one below. They can be in the form of a traditional hanging structure, however, it is usual to see the candelabra style in other designs. Cast iron is a typical material for any welcome light, which can be used both in and outdoors. These types of welcome lights can be quite big and therefore sit on the floor at the entrance, and of course, smaller structures can sit on foyer tables.
Welcome torch light produce bigger flames. They are generally spiked into the ground or snow, not for holding, and are used for bigger events or businesses such as hotels, sports clubs and other outdoor group activities. They are used when it is important to provide a little more light to show the way, or for safety. Though, with such a big open flame they are put out of reach, like up a snow mound.
The city shopping center has invested in some industrial size flame torches for outside their entrances. Because the flames are so big and are at kiddie level, they have been covered with wire. This is not necessary for most welcome lights.
These are home-made snowball igloos with a candle inside. They are a fun activity for the kids and look beautiful in the winter snow. They can be found in people’s yards. The trick is to light the candle first and then build the snowball lantern around it.
The heart is one of three symbols of the Norwegian Christmas (the snowflake and star are the other two). A hanging heart with a space for a tea light is an every day item. When I first came to Norway I thought they were very special, but they are everywhere, at every Christmas and common throughout the whole dark season, inside and out. The silver ones do look lovely with the tea lights hanging from porches. They are also popular indoor ornaments and can be very delicate and elegant as the ones below.
Not all welcome lights are outside. Most Norwegian houses have an entrance or foyer area, perfect for welcome lights. Lanterns and candelabras are popular to use but I have seen many plate or tray welcome lights or decorations.
Trays are dressed with several tea light holders and baubles, tinsel, nuts and flowers. Natural decorations are favoured among Norwegians and so wood, bark, cones and moss are a regular feature of a Norwegian Christmas.