I blew some dust off a candle today. I did so in passing, but something about it (other than the fact that I need to clean house more often) niggled at the corners of my consciousness until I finally decided to scratch the itch by writing this.

Candles are beautiful. (I'm not talking about the creepy candles shaped like tiny models of tourist attractions.) While burning, they are even more beautiful. They elicit primal emotions in us -- warm serenity and comfort, intimacy, formality, or even excitement -- in a way that somehow speaks directly to our hindbrains. A lit candle tells the world "Something special is happening here!"

Sometimes candles are given as gifts or are purchased for major home decor, and these candles can get quite fancy.1 The thing about these candles (whether or not someone gave them to you) is that they tend to become part of your decor. Now, maybe it's just me, but if I've got something that pleasantly reminds me of someone or something, I tend not to want to burn it.2 So, there that candle sits, collecting dust.... and you aren't enjoying any of that candle magic by letting it do that, now are you? I have, rather guiltily, decided to call this practice candle neglect.

Candle neglect can happen to any type of candle, of course. I personally find that I get into a rut where I'm just plain tired and don't want to worry about accidentally falling asleep3. Or maybe I want to burn a candle and then am somehow distracted by other cares. Or, I think to myself, well, I wanted to do something with that particular taper but I really don't have time to implement it tonight, so I'll do it tomorrow. (And then tomorrow becomes tomorrow yet again, and so forth.)

So, tonight, I have dusted off the candle on my coffee table and am typing by candlelight. It's nothing special, just one of those glass-enclosed candles4 you often find in the Hispanic aisle at the supermarket; it cost maybe $2 U.S. This one happens to be a rich blue color and has burned about halfway down already. I've got more candles around that need to be dusted, sadly.... but I've made a decision, and I'd like to share it with you.

After this, I'm going to burn my candles and enjoy them. Or, if need be, I'll wrap them up carefully and store them away. (I do have rather a lot of candles, after all, and in fact many are already in storage.) But I will never let one collect dust ever again, even the fancy one prominently featured on a shelf in my master bathroom, which was given to me at almost ten years ago. Candles should be burned, not dusted!

  1. Gifted candles are sometimes expensive, but they don't have to be; if you are on a tight budget, a few tapers wrapped nicely with a bit of ribbon or raffia and maybe some dried flowers does just fine as, say, a hostess gift.

  2. If your candle is wide enough, you can avoid this problem by scooping out a bit of the top and inserting a tea light in place of the main candle's wick. This sort of set up will require dusting, however!

  3. While I have never created unintentional fire from a candle (knock on wood), I have slightly frizzed my hair once or twice. Here, then, are a few safety notes:

    • Never leave a burning candle unattended! This means YOU. I'm serious; don't do it. Even for "oh, just a minute, really." I have been known to carry a lit candle to the bathroom with me when I really had to make a pit stop and didn't want to temporarily extinguish it.

    • Likewise, never burn a candle if you think you might fall asleep.

    • Always place a candle on an appropriate, heatproof surface or holder.

    • Some candles have lead in their wicks. Avoid these; they are not good for you.

    • Keep your candlewick trimmed to no longer than approximately 1/4 inch or 4 millimeters.

    • Don't go sticking weird shit in the hot candle wax, alright? Who knows what sort of toxic fumes might be created if it burns.

    • If you're going to get up close and personal with fire, tie back your hair and clothing.

    • If you've got yourself one or more of those monster candles and are going for a marathon session of candle burning, be sure you have adequate ventilation. Crack a window open if you need to. Also, watch your ceiling carefully, as soot can and will accumulate, especially if you always burn your candles in the same place.

  4. When it is burning down to the bottom, a glass-enclosed candle should be placed on a plate or other heatproof item to protect against transferred heat.