Light the Dark! The History of Candles and Celebrations of Light

Light the Dark! The History of Candles and Celebrations of Light

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's springtime, with the days growing longer and the world coming alive. Throughout time, even as nature blossoms around them, people have celebrated the renewal of light.

As we journey through this beautiful season, we delve into festivities that embrace illumination amidst the brightness. And what more fitting way to illuminate the season than with the gentle glow of candles!

Egyptian Candles

Way back in Egypt in 5000 BC, people used candles made from beeswax or animal fat to light the long nights of winter. The oldest candle holder found in the area was made from clay.

Chinese Candles

The Chinese created candles from whale fat and tallow, which both burn brightly. And some cultures such as India and Japan also used plant-based wax for their candles.

These early candles were formed by rolling papyrus or rice paper into thin wicks and dipping the tube into the wax, leaving it to dry. When the candle was lit, the paper burned, and the wax would melt and become fuel for the flame.

Fish Candles?

Sometimes early explorers made candles from a dried fish! The eulachon, or candlefish, has such high body fat at certain times of its life, it can be caught, dried, and lighted as a candle! Imagine a fish nightlight!

Medieval and Colonial Candles

Later, in the middle ages and colonial times, the paper wicks were exchanged for improved wicks made from cotton or hemp. These wicks burned slower, which made the candles last longer.

old candle making machine with wicks on spools

Modern Candles

In modern times, our candles are molded from paraffin and stearic acid, and also waxes obtained from palm and soy plants.

Candles can be plain or highly decorative, and some even release pleasant fragrances as they burn.

Plenty of Uses for Candles

Historically, people used candles to light their homes, and travelers used them to light their way. But candles have played a part in celebrations, religious and otherwise, for millennia.

Although animal fats and plant wax made up most of the candles for everyday use long ago, candles for special occasions used beeswax. These candles made from honeycombs burn cleaner without creating a lot of smoke…perfect for quiet rituals and jolly celebrations alike.


 beeswax candles

Let’s explore a few of the world’s winter festivals featuring candles!

Hanukkah menorah

The Jewish Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, centers on the lighting of candles in a special holder called a menorah. You can find a great recipe for this holiday in our Israel Explorer Box!

Advent wreath

Advent marks the weeks to Christmas with the lighting of special candles, and the Feast of Santa Lucia is a popular candle festival observed in Sweden, Italy, and Croatia. Our World Holiday Treats Box has recipes featuring special treats from two of these!

Kwanzaa candles and harvest vegetables

Another celebration of light at this time is Kwanzaa, which uses candles to focus on seven cultural principles of African-American identity. You can find delicious East African recipes in our Ethiopia Explorer Box!

Diwali lamp

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated in October or November each year and uses oil lamps to represent the light of their lunar new year and the triumph of light over darkness. Check out the tasty recipes for Diwali in our India Explorer Box!

Japanese lantern festival

Other lunar new year celebrations occur in China and Japan. You’ll find another excellent recipe for the Japanese celebration in our World Holiday Treats Box!

Many other cultures have winter celebrations of light, all pointing the way to the end of the dark days of the winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

So much food, so many traditions featuring light! Choose your box, light your candles, and celebrate!



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