In biblical times, Jews lit a lamp that had to last them through the next evening, since lighting a fire was work they would not do during Shabbat. This tradition has been carried forward through Jewish history. Still today, we begin Shabbat on Friday evening by lighting the candles and saying a blessing.
You can buy candles that are marked “Shabbat candles” in many supermarkets, though any candles are fine. These candles are left to burn down, so make sure you find a good fire-safe spot for them. Lighting the candles and reciting the blessing brings Shabbat into your home.
For most blessings, you say the blessing then do the action. Because once you light the candles Shabbat begins (with the prohibition about lighting fire), it is traditional to light the candles and then cover your eyes to hide their light while saying the blessing. Many have the additional custom of waving the hands toward the face, as though scooping up the holiness of the light and the day.
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam asher kid’shanu b’mitz’votav vitz’ivanu l’had’lik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with thy commandments,
and commanded us to light the Sabbath lights.
After the candles have been blessed, remember not to blow them out.
The Guide to Shabbat and Havdalah for Interfaith Families is available as a PDF and our booklet Shabbat: What to Expect in the Synagogue, Shabbat Made Easy, and Havdalah Made Easy are available for download.