Christmas Eve Candlelight Service Ideas for a Symphony of Light

Plan a memorable Christmas Eve candlelight service with these ideas and tips.

Updated December 6, 2023
candlelight service

Whether you're planning a service for your local church or hoping to put one together for family and friends, you'll want to make the event as special as possible. Including scripture, poems, and songs will create a Christmas Eve candlelight service that everyone is sure to remember. The final result will be a celebration that embodies the joy and faith of the season. 

Speakers for Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

The obvious go-to speaker is a pastor, but there are times when one may not be available. For example, the pastor may need to travel home to another state for the holidays or have an ill family member. If your own church's pastor or a local fill-in can't be located, then some of the other speakers you might want to consider for your service include:

  • Deacons and elders
  • Seasoned church members
  • Youth or children's pastor
  • Music minister
  • Children (allow children of reading age to take turns reading verses from Luke 2, the Christmas story)

Volunteer candlelight service planner Jennifer Conner has been instrumental in organizing Christmas Eve candlelight services for a variety of churches over the years, including her last church, Bethel Baptist, in Memphis, Indiana. She shares tips how to plan candlelight services based on her extensive experience. 

"If you can't find anyone willing to speak, consider moderating the event yourself and focusing more on the music or a small Christmas skit put on by the children," she says. 

"One year, I couldn't find anyone who could speak at the service. I finally chose to be the speaker. I read a couple of scriptures and enlisted the help of others. The focus was on music, the candles, and the reading of the scripture. It was short, simple, and turned out to be a memorable service."

Quick Tip

If the service is small and personal, send out individual invitations and ask guests to RSVP to know how many candles you'll need. If the service is open to all, spread the word through your church or other groups. 

Scripture to Read

In addition to reading the story of Jesus's birth in Luke 2, there are some other verses that can work well for a candlelight service and other accounts of Jesus's birth:

  • Isaiah 7:14 - A short reading about the virgin conceiving the son of God
  • Luke 1:30-35 - The story of Mary conceiving the Messiah
  • Matthew 1:18-25 - Verses that summarize Jesus's conception and birth
  • Isaiah 9:6-7 - A proclamation of Jesus coming to Earth in flesh and a list of some of the names he is called
  • Micah 5:2 - A short verse about the city of Bethlehem and how it will be the place where the Christ-child is born
  • John 3:16 - A short verse that children memorize in Bible school that speaks of why God sent His son to earth
  • Zechariah 9:9 - A verse that speaks of rejoicing over the coming of Christ, the king
  • Matthew 2:1-12 - The story of the three wise men visiting Jesus

Service Music Options

For music, you can either have the entire congregation sing along, or you can have a special singer or two. Consider using these traditional Christmas hymns appropriate for Christmas Eve services, which should be readily available in most church hymnals:

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • O Holy Night
  • Silent Night, Holy Night
  • Away in a Manger

Invite Musicians to Perform

Another option is to support local talent by inviting other church musicians to participate in your service. This can become a reciprocal tradition between parishes.

  • Invite a local church handbell choir to perform at your candlelight service.
  • If there is a college in your locale, invite the music director to perform with one or more students.
  • Reach out to a high school music director and invite the school chorus to perform.
  • Local musicians may enjoy getting together to perform for your members.
  • Organize a children's choir of kids from various churches to sing songs throughout the service.

Special Service Features

You'll want to offer some noteworthy features in the service that mark this as a special occasion. "At one church I was at in Texas, we had a short play that went through the Christmas story, and the teens in the church acted it out, complete with Mary, Joseph, and a baby from the congregation to play Jesus," Ms. Conner said. "It added a lot of fun to the service and got the teens involved."

Other ideas for adding special items to the service:

  • Sign language set to a beautiful Christmas song, such as Mary Did You Know?
  • Inspirational Christmas videos
  • Poems written and read by church members
  • Readings of poems, such as Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or The Holy Night by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Outlines for Specific Types of Services

Christmas candlelight service

If you prefer a traditional church candlelight service, use the Christmas Eve candlelight service outline, which will walk you through the service from start to finish. Then, you can build your program based on the service outline. Otherwise, use the brief outlines below to help you plan a service that focuses on a more specific type.

Carol Service

A carol service includes singing Christmas carols but can also include poetry, hymns, and speeches or sermons. Planning a service based on carol-singing is simple if you organize a few things in advance.

  • Choose which carols you'd like to sing and print out enough copies of the lyrics for all the guests who will be in attendance, or make sure you have PowerPoint presentations of the lyrics for any viewing screens in the sanctuary.
  • Have a pianist or other musicians present, or choose orchestral or instrumental versions of the carols and put them all on one playlist in the order you'll be singing them.
  • Designate someone to control the sound system, starting and stopping the music between songs as necessary and putting lyrics on the screen if using media.
  • If poems or other readings take place, have them ready for the speakers to recite.

Memorial Service

If you're planning a Christmas Eve candlelight memorial service, here are a few things to consider:

  • Guests can light and hold congregational taper candles, or you can provide votive candles with simple candle holders for each guest to light and then take home with them in memory of their loved ones.
  • Allow each attendee to say a few words about their departed loved one if they wish. Make this optional, as some people choose to grieve quietly.
  • Include some poetry or Bible verses that apply to both the loss of loved ones and the Christmas season.
  • Allow for a moment of silence to let each person reflect.

Contemporary Christmas Eve Service With Candles

A contemporary Christmas Eve service can include non-traditional music, such as modern Christmas songs. If church members play musical instruments, you can form an impromptu concert of popular holiday songs.

  • Ask church members to wear an ugly Christmas sweater to the service or a hat and scarf.
  • Invite the parish's children to perform their favorite Christmas songs for the congregation.
  • Select a few families to take turns reading a line each of the scripture by standing up from the pew as a family unit.
  • Feature the candle lighting at the very end of the service so the entire congregation can go caroling through the town, in the churchyard, or in a nearby neighborhood with their candles lighting the way.
  • At the end of the caroling, everyone meets back at the church for hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.
  • Break off into smaller groups and deliver Christmas cookies to housebound members, members in the hospital, nursing homes, or hospice.
  • Create a video of your service and post it online for church members who were unable to attend the service.

Lighting Logistics for a Candlelight Service

When to light the candles may depend on various church practices. There should be only one lighting to avoid confusion and mishaps. Some churches prefer to have candlelight only during the service with the addition of individual candles being lit to hold a significant meaning.

If your church observes communion, candles can be lit after communion for the final reading from the Bible. If your church doesn't offer communion during your candlelight service: 

  • Light the candles during the reading of the scripture about the Holy family seeking shelter and settling in a manger.
  • Light the candles for the choir's last hymn before the end of the service.
  • Light the candles to burn during the sermon.
Quick Tip

The lights should be turned off so the effect is powerful, and the minister should announce to the congregation that the lights will be turned off to avoid startling anyone. 

Lighting candles in church

Procedure for Lighting the Candles

It's best not to leave the unlit candles in the pews as they may get scattered. Instead, just before the lighting, have ushers pass out the candles by handing the correct number to the first person in the pew and passing the unlit candles down the row.

Another set of ushers should light the first candle on each pew, and that person should light the candle next to them and so on down the row until all candles are lit. Some ushers may still be passing out candles as earlier rows begin to light theirs. This will save time.

End of Service Considerations

You'll also want to have metal buckets for people to place their burnt candles in before leaving the building. One way to conclude the service is to light the candles, dim the lights, close in prayer, and ask everyone to exit from the front row to the back rows, carrying the candles. They should then blow out their candle and place it in a bucket to prevent accidents.

Quick Tip

It's always a good idea to provide beverages or snacks after the service, allowing guests to mingle.

Christmas Eve Candlelight

Celebrate the Season

A Christmas Eve candlelight service is a lovely way to start or end any Christmas celebration. Whether you decide to plan a traditional service or put something a bit more modern together, as long as you focus on the reason for the celebration, it will be a memorable event.

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service Ideas for a Symphony of Light