Yesterday, on my way back home from our mother-daughter road trip, I asked my daughter if she wanted to stop at the Yankee Candle outlet that was en route. She shares my love of candles and we thought we might grab a few. I was completely unprepared for the sensory overload experience of Yankee Candle village. After having to take a moment to deep breathe beneath the artificial snow that falls every 5 minutes in “Holiday Land,” I realized that my enjoyment of the simplicity of candlelight was in sharp contrast to this spectacular event. My daughter was equally overwhelmed, but we quickly fell in step by making our own glass candle and sniffing almost every one of the seemingly endless votive candle buffet to select the dozen we would bring home with us. It was, I admit, a fun road trip diversion.
I love every scent I bought, but I think it’s going to be a couple weeks before I can appreciate their flickering light without a visceral memory of that candle extravaganza.
Tonight, I am sitting outside by candlelight with air scented only by some smoldering citronella. An expansive collection of candles and their decorative holders are here, too, adorning the upper porch of our house. I breathe in a relaxed Friday night with one more week of vacation spreading out before me. It’s no Yankee Village but my candle infatuation is evident.
As I sit, I start remembering back to candles in my life. Candles growing up marked special occasions: birthdays, Christmas, perhaps a very nice dinner on a chilly winter night. Birthday candles were recycled year to year (they were still good!) and the special number in the center of the cake could sometimes be known to pass from cousin to cousin like our familiar plaid dresses. Or, numbers were saved for the coming years when there could be a “1” on front, or combined to sneak onto my parents cake. Candles were lit boldly, accompanied by a wish certain to come true (if never spoken out loud) then extinguished. There was a precious, limited quality to birthday candle flames. Christmas, on the other hand, was a candle indulgent time of year. We had some candles (carved and decorated) that we never lit, only displayed. Who could stand to watch Rudolph’s nose melt into red drips, or see a flame emanating from Mary’s head as she cradled baby Jesus? But, around the not-to-be burned wax decor were glass votive holders and their many scented, squatty candle companions that would scent the house with bayberry, pine, and cinnamon. Nights when we lit candles and turned out all the lights were my favorite. It was quiet, and still. I felt at peace.
It’s probably no surprise that in my own home…even my first tiny apartment…candles were a treasured necessity. Even if I could only purchase the four-for-a-dollar variety, candles were in my house wherever I could find a space. Votives, sconces, and most especially thick blown glass cups that cast reflected and refracted light around me. I learned to melt down leftover wax and repurpose it into my own drip candles, adding a drop or two of scented oil. I sometimes bought and rolled beeswax into tapers of all sizes and shapes (something I have taught to my daughter, too). Long before I returned to church, candles carried my prayers and meditations to Spirit, wafting through the stillness and speaking words before they had even taken audible form.
Later, I would begin to light candles in memory of friends and family. Candles became light in the midst of loss; visceral reminders that memories burn on in our hearts and keep light scattered even to the darkened corners of a broken spirit. In churches, cathedrals, carried to the four corners on the wind, stately on my mantel, intimately by my bedside…these are the the flames of memory that burn in my heart and soul.
Candles are not all for my own use and keeping, though. I like to give candles, too. If you receive a candle from me, it is like I am giving you a little cup full of Spirit, perhaps encased in some lovely glass or imbued with a scent that made me think of you. If I make a candle for you, I have been wrapping blessings into the beeswax, or dipping the wick into pools of prayer. I don’t say that, of course. You might not burn them if I did, and that truly is what candles are for. I never buy people shaped candles, nor animals, nor anything else that could look like it is being torched. Candles are meant to be burned, and those are the candles I buy, and light, and give away. The wax, the scent, the light and the warmth dissipating into the air, being carried by Spirit to places we may never know. That is the gift of the candle, whenever and wherever it is lit.
Time to savor my remaining candlelight tonight.
Each candle, a small point of light…