Archive for October, 2017

26
Oct
17

Candles

It’s my birthday week, so I thought this was a timely article to write –

Candles are romantic, candles are for birthdays, candles are for scent, candles are for religion and celebrations, candles have lots of different meanings for many of us – crossing cultures around the world.

The earliest candles may have been small torches – branches dipped in animal fat and lit for a slow burning, dependable light source.

In 3000 BC, Egyptians were using tallow (fat rendered from animals other than pigs) for candles and as time went on, other cultures began finding different sources to use. In India they found that a residue was left by melting cinnamon and it would burn (also smell nicer than tallow, I presume!). China was using whale fat and insects, while Japan extracted oil from tree nuts.

Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest found that fish called eulachon had a very high fat content during spawning, so they would dry them and use them as candles for lighting, thus the fish’s new name “candlefish.”

In more modern times, beeswax, bayberry wax and whale spermaceti were used. Spermaceti was made by crystalizing sperm whale oil which was a harder wax that didn’t melt in the summer, produced a brighter light and didn’t smell as badly as tallow.

In the early 19th century a French chemist discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids, which lead to stearin wax, a wax that burned cleanly and was hard and durable. Later, paraffin wax, made by distilling coal, came into use.

Candles seem mystical – have you ever been mesmerized by watching a candle’s flame flickering? It’s easy to understand why/how certain superstitions got started. If a flame burns blue, supposedly a ghost is in the area and if there is a tall, straight flame it means a stranger will come. Burn a candle in the window to make sure a lover will return.

You should always light a candle with your right hand, otherwise, expect bad luck! Also, it’s bad luck to melt the base of a candle to make it set well in its base or to light it from a fire’s flame. I do hope, for your sake, that a candle that you light does not immediately go out – otherwise bad luck will follow! If it is difficult to light – rain is on the way.

The Irish used to have a superstition that 12 candles must be lit around a body at the wake as protection from evil spirts.

In 1700’s New England, a cultural tradition was begun using wax and oil of the bayberry plant added to their candles. They found the candles burned longer and gave off a wonderful scent. They presented these new candles to friends and neighbors at Christmas time, with the poem that indicated all good wishes would be lost in the smoke if they were blown out.

A Bayberry candle, burned to the socket

Brings joy to the home, and wealth to the pocket.

And now to the point of this whole article – birthdays! And of course, with birthdays, come candles on birthday cakes (or in my case birthday pies) and the tradition of blowing them out.

Apparently, the first birthday party was recorded in early Egypt, for a pharaoh on his coronation, which marked the moment he was “birthed” as a god. But the Greeks made cakes in offerings to some of their gods and eventually placed lit candles on some cakes as a way to symbolize the moon. It was believed that when the candles were blown out their prayers were carried up to the gods.

In the 1700’s in Germany, there were many accounts of cakes and candles used to celebrate children’s birthdays – a kinderfest. A record of a cake decorated with a candle for each year of life was in 1746, for Count Ludwig Von Zinzindorf.

Just when the belief of having to blow out all the candles to have your wish (or prayer) come true is unsure, but we still all make that important wish (prayer) annually, and send the wishes up to the heavens.

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