Besides their practical value as a source of illumination, few objects speak to us in so many different ways, elicit so wide a range of emotions as do candles. For centuries, they’ve been an integral part of religious observances and rituals, reinforcing as they do the moods, messages and imagery of our sacred beliefs and practices. Candles bring light to the “darkness”, elevate the moment, create an atmosphere in which reality is transformed and transcended. The flickering light blurs commonplace reality; objects become obscured, surrender their solidity, replaced by shadows and mystery. The light, though comforting and reassuring, is, as our lives, limited and precarious. It burns brightly, fades and then is no more.
Candles have long been associated with prayer and mourning, with faith and hope. Candlelight vigils produce a sense of collective dedication to a cause or public tribute to worthy individuals or groups. Often they are associated with peaceful and solemn gatherings, demonstrating that there is strength in numbers and power in prayer. Then, too, memorial candles spark memory, remind us of departed loved ones, connect us to traditions warmly recalled.
But let’s not overlook the bright side. Candles are a decorative and festive feature that enhance holiday gatherings and other celebrations, are readily associated with warmth and joy (even when not lit). Who would risk staging a birthday celebration without lighting candles, then triumphantly extinguishing them?
And what would romance be without candles? Who doesn’t appear more attractive bathed in their glow – facial lines softened, blemishes receded, backgrounds erased, magical moments. What surer sign that romance is in the air than candlelight dinners?
Thus it is that candles stir the emotions, transform the ordinary, elevate the sacred, highlight both the joys and sorrows of our lives.