For thousands of years, candles have lit people’s homes and have brought light into their places of worship. This has allowed people to do things such as reading and writing long after the sun has set. Candles have historically been so important to humanity that they even have symbolic meaning for all of us.
Traditionally, candles have come to symbolize the illumination of knowledge, hope in times of darkness, and life. They are so important that they have even been given their own holiday, observed annually on the first Saturday in December, known as Candle Day.
The History of Candle Day
Before we begin our discussion of Candle Day, it might be useful if we explored the history of candles first. The first candles made were by the Egyptians over 6,000 years ago.
These were basically rushlights, which means they were made from the pithy core of reeds soaked in animal fat. Although these “candles” produced light, it was low-quality light. They also tended to be quite smoky, which is considered a major drawback of these types of lights.
Eventually, the Egyptians created real wicked candles about 5,000 years ago. It’s also theorized that the Romans had candles around this time as well. Both used papyrus dipped in either melted tallow or beeswax.
This produced light sufficient enough for religious ceremonies, to light homes, and to aid travelers at night. Of course, the invention of candles also appeared in other parts of the world, including India and Japan.
During the Middle Ages, most people relied on candles to light their homes. Unfortunately, the majority of the population had to use candles made from tallow, which produced a sputtering flame and a ton of smoke. Sure, high-quality beeswax candles were available, but they cost more than the average person could afford.
In Europe, candles had become so important by the 13th century that they had become a guild craft. Chandlers would go from house to house to collect the kitchen fat that households had saved and make candles from them at their shops.
During the 17th century, people in North America learned how to make candles from wax made by boiling bayberry bushes’ green berries. These candles were sweet-smelling and burned very cleanly. However, the process of making these candles was tedious, and that’s probably why they were replaced as soon as possible.
Beginning in the 18th century, sperm whale oil was used to make spermaceti. These candles became extremely popular and were widely available. They had advantages over beeswax candles because they produced a brighter light and didn’t smell as strongly. Spermaceti was also firmer than beeswax, which meant that it held up in the summer heat much better.
During the mid-19th century, paraffin wax began to be used for candles. This wax produced a bluish-white light and was virtually odorless. It also allowed candles to be produced economically. It did have a major flaw, however. It had a low melting point. Fortunately, that was overcome by adding stearic acid to harden them up.
In 1879, the electric light was introduced to the public, and as it grew in popularity, candles began to decline in popularity. Even so, they never truly fell out of favor and continued to be used up until the 1980s.
They did suffer a temporary decrease in use during this time, but that was only temporary. The popularity of candles began to rise again during the 1990s as new varieties of candle waxes were developed and people increasingly used them as decorative and ceremonial items.
In 1990, Bath & Body Works was founded in New Albany, Ohio. They opened their first store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and began on their road to candle sales dominance. In 2006, they had net sales of $2.3 billion. In 2013, they launched Candle Day to encourage people to buy more candles. This is also when they offer steep discounts on their candles.
Observing Candle Day
During this day, people are likely going to want to take advantage of the sale prices on candles. This is also a day for people to enjoy the candles they already have or to give their friends and family members candles as gifts.
Anyone interested in observing this day can also help spread the word about it using the hashtag #CandleDay on social media. Let’s all spread the word about this holiday and the importance that candles still have in our lives.