I’m obsessed with flames. Growing up in a family with fire-making rituals, I come by this naturally. Wherever we lived, when the outside temperature dropped, it was time to lay wood in the fireplace and watch it burn. Now I live in a Parisian apartment with seven fireplaces. All of them sealed shut. In the dark winter months there is only one alternative. Between four and five in the afternoon, as the sun is setting, I begin lighting candles.
Recently, I became aware this is not a tradition others follow as consistently as I do. Earlier this month, on a dark December afternoon, my friend Lesli invited a group of women for “wine and unwind” time. This is a time of bringing friends into your home, opening a bottle of something and letting conversation flow.
Lesli’s apartment happens to be furnished with a spectacular crystal chandelier from another century. Studying it admiringly, I noticed it was not electrified. It was outfitted with candles. They had never been lit since Lesli moved in three years before. She needed little encouragement from me. With partially burned candles already in place, I climbed on a chair and broke off the blackened wicks before re-lighting them. In full glow, this antique beauty became a Versailles-worthy show stopper. Although no “ugly duckling” before, it was now a stunning swan.
She also had six or eight candles in heavy glass jars from the oldest candle making store in Paris, Cire Trudon. This is the most prestigious French wax manufacturer in existence since 1643. The wicks were deeply buried in hardened wax. It took some digging and trimming, but those, too, were put into burning use. Soon the living room was ambient with candle glow, “coupes de champagne” in everyone’s hand, and easy banter among friends.
Everyone knows candlelight warms up any room. But for many people they are messy and off putting to use except on special occasions. If you are an infrequent candle lighter, a bit of know-how etiquette is what you need. For anyone inclined to light up the night with candles, here is a basic tutorial as requested by a few friends in France.
- Always trim the wick before relighting a candle. It will break off in your fingers at the perfect starting point. Otherwise, smoke from a too-long wick blackens walls, ceilings and pollutes the room.
- Prevent excessive dripping messes by keeping lit candles out of drafts. This seems obvious, but it’s really important to be aware of air currents where candles are burning. For safety reasons.
- If you light a lot of candles, it’s good to use a candlesnuffer for extinguishing rather than blowing them out. This reduces smoke pollution and spraying wax on walls and surfaces.
Whether you engage in regular candle usage or not, there is other interesting etiquette to know.
- Never display new candles [taper or column] with white, unburnt wicks. If you leave wicks un-blackened, they look like a store display rather than decorative home use. New candle wicks should be burned briefly and extinguished unless using the candle right away. [Votive candles are an exception.]
I can’t explain how fire and candle lore became second nature to me. But, I believe our “indoor lives” are enhanced by strategic candlelight. It’s a personal, creative choice for the selection of candle holders, shapes, and colors. Almost any non-flammable container will hold some type of candle. Oil lamp candlelight is a no fuss no muss option.
Light a candle or two at home tonight. Enjoy a few flickering flames with family or friends. After all, ‘tis the season.
Premier candles: www.ciretrudon.com
Cire Trudon USA, Inc. 358 Fifth Ave., Suite 901 NY, NY 10001
In France: 78, rue de Seine 75006 Paris