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Candles have a way of lighting up December holidays

Posted on December 12, 2020 | Comments

What scent sums up the holiday season for you? Is it the aroma of your favorite foods? A certain plant? Or something symbolic of the celebration? A number of behavioral studies have demonstrated that smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of “being brought back in time” than images. That seems to be true since people tend to mention memories of some kind when they talk about their favorite holiday foods.

The three major holidays celebrated in December are Hannukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. They all have specific intentions and many related scents and aromas that connect to memories of celebrated traditions. Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus with the fragrance of frankincense, pine, wood burning in the fireplace, and in colder climates, the “fresh smell” of snow. During Hannukah mouth-watering aromas waft in the air when potato latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts are cooked with oil to celebrate the historical significance of how one jar of oil kept a candle lit for 8 days. Kwanzaa, observed by African Americans, symbolically honors their cultural values of joy, sharing, and unity with an aromatic combination of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Candles are common to all three December holidays. They have been symbolically used dating back to the ancient Romans who made them out of beeswax. Throughout the world people from all walks of life, varied spiritual leanings, and a diverse array of religions light candles for many different reasons and events. In general, lighting a candle depicts bringing light to our innermost wishes or desires. A candle is often lit as a prayer for peace or a request for healing. The Olympic flame is the most recognized symbol of hope and faith. Candles carried great significance in Shakespeare’s mind when he wrote, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world” and a Welsh proverb claims that “the best candle is understanding.” Indeed.

Commercially, candles are big business with approximately 35% of candle sales occurring during the Christmas/Holiday season and the balance is sold for diverse uses. Nationwide more than a billion pounds of beeswax are used to produce candles in a variety of sizes and shapes from tapers, to votives to outdoor and novelty candles, and not to forget, birthday candles. Believe it or not, there are more than 10,000 different scents used to make candles. Now we’re back to scents and my wishes that the spirit of your holidays and New Year shines brightly this season with loved ones near and far.  

Originally published December 10, 2020 in the Orange County Register

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