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No Unlit Wicks

My mother taught me that you never display a candle in your home without at least lighting the wick just long enough for the flame to dimple the wax. She would see unburnt tapers as decorations in peoples homes and bristle. “Tacky,” she said. “Like putting a lamp in your living room but not plugging it in.” My grandmother let me know that it was considered “tacky” to place the candle without lighting it because you must invite the light to stay in your home by letting it know it is welcome.  In college I had a roommate who had a pair of antique-German-decorative candles that were her pride and joy… never ever lit, pure untouched wicks. It endlessly annoyed me to have these soulless candles in my living space. Beautiful but empty. Flame not only never invited but actively unwanted. “Tacky” wasn’t really the problem… They were empty, cold, lifeless.  We are not a family of snuffers either. I was taught to safely cup the flame, extinguish it with a breath, and whisper “Thank you.” None of this was ceremonial. None of this was magical. This was just how you keep a candle in your home. Grandma would worry when the candles would drip a certain way or if the smoke darkened or the flame flickered too much… but she never really explained much. I would feel her anxiety or laughter in my gut… and my mom would generally roll her eyes and dismiss it all.  I know little of my great grandmother, except the way grandma would get a sweet enchanted look as she described her mother and the way Great Grandma decorated their small home and lit candles and made the world magical on Christmas Eve… so my image of Great Grandma came to be something like The Ghost of Christmas Present: larger than life, welcoming you to join Her by the hearth, evergreens and sparkling beads strewn everywhere, and a wreath of candles on Her head making it all twinkle. Sometimes it is Her I think of as I blow out my candles and whisper, “Thank you.”