Candles lend their special glow to holiday celebrations

Candles may have originated in Egypt, where rushes were dipped in tallow, then lighted. The cone-shaped candles have been found in the tombs of pharaohs, and a 5,000-year-old candleholder has been found in Minoan ruins on the isle of Crete.

Beeswax was a side product of beekeeping, which became a domestic art in medieval times. The wax was found to be better than tallow for candle-making, because it burns more slowly and cleaner.

Later, sperm-whale oil was used for candle-making, but that obviously is not an ecologically correct alternative for the ’90s.

Even today, light intensity is measured in candlepower.

Simple, on the surface

Candles seem incredibly simple – a wick surrounded by wax. But which wick, which wax?

“The wick can be the most important part of a candle,” says Rebecca Johnston, owner of LuminEssence candle factory and Northern Lights retail/mail-order store in Woodland Park. “The wrong wick can make it burn out, drip or smoke too much. The wrong wick in any candle can be a disaster.”

With candles, as with many other things in life, you get what you pay for, she says. And, mostly, you’re paying for wax.

Those two-for-a-buck jobs will probably burn like a house afire, and leave a big red (or green or yellow) puddle on your tablecloth. Made of poor-quality paraffin, they often aren’t much of a bargain, she says.

You can pay 10 times that for best-quality pure beeswax candles, but devotees love their warmed-honey scent and the fact that they burn slowly (about an inch an hour) and cleanly – with little smoke and dripping.

“They’re the original smokeless, dripless, long-burning candles,” Johnston says. But today, there also are some very efficient paraffin-beeswax blends, priced between the cheap and the chic.

“One thing I love about beeswax is its sensuous texture,” says Johnston, whose 2-year-old factory produces about 150,000 candles a year, most of them beeswax.

LuminEssence produces a unique, spiral-flared candle that is so popular, it’s made in secret, by workers who are trained for months before they become proficient at it. (Only about 1 of every 10 trainees learns to do it to Johnston’s standards.)

Candles brighten the day

“People are using candles year-round,” Johnston says. “They’re not just for the holidays any more, though the last six months of the year are just frantic for us.”

Candles have become an integral part of home decor, and fit into any decorating style, she says. And not only are people buying them, they’re burning them, she says.

“People love them because they create an intimacy in any setting – there’s something so comforting about candlelight.”

The Silent Woman store, probably has the largest stock of candles at The Citadel mall.

It carries a large selection from Beeswax Designs of California, and has placed a sizable order with LuminEssence – not just because it is local, but also because of its unique designs, says owner Mary Kuehn. The Beeswax Designs spiral-flared candles are more ruffly and the LuminEssence candles more tailored, she says. Both are made with pure beeswax.

Silent Woman also carries candles by A.I. Root – 125 years old and one of the top candle manufacturers in the nation. These candles are beeswax blended with paraffin, and come in innovative colors and styles, including Timberline, a new barklike candle designed for the rustic or Western-style decor.

Silent Woman also carries candle-related accessories – from candle-snuffers to brass “crowns” for candles.

“It’s almost like jewelery for your candles,” Kuehn says.

You don’t need a holiday or religious celebration – or even a power outage – to appreciate the glow of candlelight.

A mundane meal becomes elegant, a simple bath becomes luxurious, when accompanied by candlelight.

Small rechargeable votive candles also are extremely popular now.

Where to get a good light

Candles are available in nearly every grocery store, discount store, gift or card shop. Specialty stores are listed in the Yellow Pages.

LuminEssence candles are available at Sparrow Hawk, Egg House Artisans, The Broadmoor hotel’s Little Kitchen, and Silent Woman.

You also can go to the source.

LuminEssence sells nearly flawless “seconds” at a discount at its factory gift shop, Northern Lights, at 180 Highway 67 in Woodland Park. First-quality candles also are available there, as are candle-making kits and other candle-related gifts.

Simple, hand-dipped beeswax candles are made and sold at the Victor Trading Company, in Victor.

Owner Karen Morrison says it takes about 20 or so dips, or about half an hour, to make the average candle. Hers range from 1/2-inch mini candles to 10-inch tapers ($1-$8 a pair). They come in the natural, golden beeswax color. She also casts some in antique ice-cream molds, then hand-paints them.

Whichever candles you choose, they’re sure to add a glow to your holidays.

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