I’m in a pumpkin spice frame of mind. In Miami it doesn’t feel like fall just yet and maybe it won’t for a while, but I know that a candle will put me in the mood of cooler weather. I think I’ve even got one in the hall closet, waiting for just this moment.
A couple of weeks ago I burned a votive I had bought while on summer vacation. It had a very romantic name, Seaside Driftwood, and for days, while I painstakingly edited dozens of pages, the smell evoked sand and surf, the cry of seagulls and the lapping of waves. But it did more than that. It saved me from those dark, doubting thoughts that befriend every writer on deadline.
If my mother could see me now.
Truth? She would probably shake her head in disbelief. Throwing money at candles? Playing with fire to set a mood? What’s wrong with flipping the perfectly good light switch on the wall? Of course she’d think it silly and wasteful, a sure sign that our society is spending too much time and thought and treasure on the wrong things.
It wasn’t so long ago when candles were nothing more than a light source. People used them if the electricity went out — and only as a last resort. Flashlights and battery-operated hurricane lanterns were infinitely better and safer. Come to think of it, candles outside religious and ceremonial settings were rare back in my youth. Churches were the only place I remember seeing the flicker of fire at the end of a white taper.
Of course times change, and marketing helps that passage along. Candles, first made by the ancient Romans back in 500 B.C., have evolved from a necessity to one of those luxury items we like to indulge in. Because … because, heck, we deserve it. We like the coziness they evoke, the intimacy they imply (candlelight dinners are perennially romantic), but most of all we’re enamored of the 10,000 different scents candlemakers now offer.
Though I like lighting candles, I am by no means obsessed with them, at least not in the way some of my friends are. One of them, an otherwise perfectly sane woman, has been known to stand in line when candles go on sale at the Bath & Body Works in the closest mall. Another friend swears by this ritual: she comes home from work, kicks off her high heels and lights her candle. Then for a few minutes she simply sits and enjoys that sense of slowness, that promise of peace.
In this era of digital pleasure, it’s a relief that something as basic as a good scent appeals to our most optimistic self. And it seems we’re willing to pay top dollar for that. While you can fork over a mere couple of bucks for a votive candle, some larger jar ones can go for a couple hundred — or more, lots more. The 88-ounce Peony & Blush Suede Luxury Scented Candle made by Jo Malone London, for example, sells for $495 at Nordstrom. At that hefty price, you get free shipping and 230 hours of burn time.
But it’s not even the most expensive candle. Luxe magazine gives that crown to an Owen Crew creation launched for the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding. It’s made of pricey essential oils, including Bulgarian rose oil and Indian jasmine oil (never heard of ‘em), and it promises the fragrant notes of peonies, Nile Delta’s Geranium and American Cedar-wood musk.
Me, I’m a Yankee Candle kind of girl who’s willing to cheat with other brands if they’re offered in BOGO deals. I draw comfort from knowing that when December rolls around, pumpkin perfume will cede rights to another scent. For that season, I’ll whip out the two-wick Balsam & Clove pillar candle that I’ve been saving for a while. I bought it on clearance last year and it smells … oh, it smells just like Christmas.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.