candles

A simple ritual to fight the winter darkness

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by Megan Tietz

Megan Tietz wants you to join her on the front porch for some long talks and iced tea. She lives in the heart of Oklahoma City with her husband, two daughters, and twin sons. Catch up with her at Sorta Crunchy and join the conversation in her Facebook community.

I am not made for winter.

I don’t know how I possibly could be, considering that I was born smack dab in the middle of June in Houston to parents whose air conditioning had gone out the week before.

Something about those miserable conditions imprinted on my DNA, so I’ll take a relentless sun and air thick with moisture over skin- and mind–numbing cold any day.

For me, far worse than the cold of winter is the darkness.

Every single year on summer solstice, I feel that familiar twinge of sadness knowing that from that bright day forward, we lose a little more light each day until we find ourselves in the depths of winter and the end of the school day bleeds so quickly into sunset.

The cold and the dark make the hours before bedtime feel so long and lonely. Sure, our home is cozy, but I much prefer evenings on the front porch, chatting with neighbors while kids race from yard to yard.

I’m thirty-six years old and one would think that by now, I would be able to take the season all in stride, but every single year I am surprised again by how isolated and disconnected I feel throughout the winter months.

This year, however, quite by accident I’ve found myself in a rhythm that has allowed me to genuinely look forward to each evening’s setting sun.

It started when this year, my daughters asked if we could keep the Advent wreath with its sweetly colored candles in their room. I hesitated because it would be quite unorthodox, but ultimately agreed to it, and I am so glad I did!

From the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas Eve, each night we lit the candles before our Advent reading for the night, and their anticipation and enjoyment of the candles was contagious. The soft, flickering glow lighting up the faces of my daughters and the predictable routine of repetition each evening combined to create for us the most meaningful Advent season ever.

beautiful candlesPhoto by Chris Parker

Some people are candle people, and some people just aren’t. I have friends who keep candles burning in their homes throughout the year, but I generally have avoided them. Quality candles are expensive and I’m sensitive to strong scents and so for reasons pragmatic and practical, we’ve never been a candle-burning family. Until now.

A few days after Christmas, I splurged on quite the candle collection, and I’ve fallen in love with the warmth and light they bring to our evenings. I even find that I’m (gasp) looking forward to the sun setting each evening so I can indulge in my new evening ritual!

As we approach the end of the day and dusk falls over the city, I go through the downstairs and close the shutters. I much prefer the muted light given off by lamps over the harshness of overhead light fixtures, so those are clicked on, and finally, I light candles in each room.

I was fortunate to find some unscented ones, but on the advice of my friend Haley, I’ll soon be ordering some beeswax candles. And no one was more surprised than I was by how delightful flameless candles are! I can tuck those away in the spots where a true flame would prove quite hazardous.

With four children (including eleven month old twin boys), our days are loud and busy and often unpredictable. Perhaps this is why I’ve come to treasure so deeply the few moments of intentional, thoughtful rhythms every evening that signal the winding down of another day.

One more beautiful benefit of this newly found joy in candlelight is that in a very real way, it helps ward off the isolation that winter often brings, for as strange as it may seem, the lighting of candles creates in me a sense of connection to community – the community of women who for centuries before me who spent winter evenings gathering loved ones in from the cold, closing their homes against the bitter wind, and warming their families with the flickering glow of firelight.

I would love to hear your thoughts today: what rhythms and rituals do you find help make winter more meaningful? And if you are a candle person, I would especially love to hear your recommendations for what I should burn next!

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Comments

  1. Candles are my winter evening ritual too. I am actually kind of OCD about burning candles to tell you the truth. Every fall, I take a ceremonial trip to Bath & Body Works where I stock up on fall and Christmas scented candles. Pumpkin spice, fresh balsam, vanilla … all the scents of winter. I light them when all my tasks are finished for the day and use it as a signal to relax.

  2. Oh my goodness I love this! I have a friend who’s house is very cozy at night time and she always keeps her lights low and candles lit. I love the idea of doing this to wind down after a long day. I, too, was not made for winter and I think this could really help me. Thanks!

  3. I’m not a big candle person but we do enjoy lighting them for dinner and it needs to be dark out to do that!
    I enjoy winter a lot more now than I used to. My favorite thing is the winter night sky – it’s not hazy and, although there is still light pollution here in the MD suburbs of Washington DC, it has less of an impact at this time of year. I love to see Orion watching over my house :)
    And don’t forget fresh citrus! A little bit of sunshine during the darkness. Plus, I happen to love snow.

  4. Over the last month, I’ve been lighting candles for dinner. It helps make an ordinary dinner seem a little more special. My four year old daughter loves it, and she has started asking for the candles to be lit at breakfast too. :)

    I’ve been wanting to get some beeswax candles and tapers but I have some others to use first.

  5. Love this! As a Northwest transplant trying to stay warm through Midwest winters, I’ve realized I need to do all I can to make winter a better experience for me. This year I’ve been especially conscious of being proactive and making choices to make winter not quite so miserable.

    For some reason I’ve never thought to embrace the winter season as a time to enjoy dinners cooking in the oven far longer than a summer night would allow and warm blankets providing a feeling of comfort not around in other seasons.

    Here’s to lighting a few more candles too!

  6. avatar
    Amanda G. says:

    What a beautiful ritual to chase away the darkness. Don’t know why this has never occurred to me. Before kids, I always lit candles. Now it never happens. Going to start tonight! Nothing more warm and cheerful than a flickering flame.

  7. Yes, we did the Advent wreath with candles for the first time this winter and I too have kept the candle lighting habit in the evenings. I love them and it was all going great until I caught myself on fire this week. My scarf lit up when I leaned over the coffee table. I whipped it off while it was in flames and only lost “some” hair. My husband tried to ban candles after that… but no. They are worth it.

  8. Thank you so much for this, Megan! While we of course have candles all around the house, I never thought about their benefit quite like you have described. I need all the help I can get for this transition into winter, especially now that the holidays have come and gone.

    What also helps us is to continue to get outside despite the darkness…armed with flashlights and reflectors!

  9. Candles! I have always loved them, but yes practicallity usually wins the day with me and so we don’t use them much. But to fight the winter darkness? Love the idea!

  10. Several years ago I realized that the thing I missed most when the Christmas decorations were packed away was all the lights! I purchased some of those flameless candles (several in a box) from Costco and grouped them around the living an dining room. They have 5 hour timers and come on (and more importantly go off!) automatically and add a lovely glow. I would love to get some of the real thing, but I admit that I’m a bit paranoid that I will forget to blow them out at bedtime! Yikes!

  11. I’m born in the heat of mid July. I THRIVE in the summer and suffer in the winter. I fight it every year and it’s a challenge but I focus on exercise, eating right, sleeping enough, keeping busy and yes, lighting candles and a fire often! I loved your article.

  12. I think I have the opposite issue. As a person born on a tropical island in January, I’m so over long sunny days! Especially hot ones. I get that same feeling you get in June, but in December when I recognize that the shorter days are ending.

    I go back and forth with candles, but right now they’re on. I’m participating in Apartment Therapy’s January cure and one thing I noticed just this week is how much having plants inside makes me happy. I’m hoping I can keep them alive so I don’t have to continuously replace them like I have in the past.

    (And in recognition on how weird it sounds to say I don’t like long sunny days, I’m now in Germany and during the summer the sun rises so early and sets so late that I never actually see night. So, I don’t really mean it, mean it… :) )

  13. I love this idea! There is something about the flickering light of candles that makes things seem so cozy. Any ideas about how to have multiple candles out when you have very little ones running and crawling around? I’d rather not have to evacuate due to fire!

  14. Back when we lived in Michigan I used to announce “I boycott winter!” throughout the season. Lot of good it did me. ;)

    I love the idea of intentionally making a setting more inviting. It reminds me of studying between classes in college, how I was more satisfied working in the beautiful library rather than the drab one (though the latter was a great place for napping, I have to confess!).

  15. I’m with you on getting the “winter blahs,” as I call them, and I know a lot of people experience this annually. I’m definitely a candle person. I often think of a friend I had way back in high school who collected beautiful, good smelling candles. She had them in her room on a big circular table but never burned any of them. I always thought it was such a shame. So whenever I get an expensive candle as a gift (Anthropologie ones are the best!), for example, I start to burn it ASAP. The joy it brings through its warmth and aroma outweighs saving it for no reason.

  16. I was just contemplating burning some candles I got to decorate our home for January. They are just so pretty, I feel like a candle hoarder! I am going to light them up tonight! We have an advent candle wreath for Christmas as well, however we would only light them on Sunday Evenings during dinner. I love the idea of lighting them every night of the month!

  17. I guess you would have done real well in the pre electricity days. :)

  18. This is such a lovely way to usher in the evening. I light a candle or two each night, but you’ve encouraged me to think about adding a few more, maybe a flameless or two.

  19. This is such a lovely way to usher in the evening. I light a candle or two each night, but you’ve encouraged me to think about adding a few more, maybe a flameless or two.

  20. I hate winter. And, admittedly, I also suffer from Seasonal Affect Disorder. With that said: I make my own candles! I find it to be a fun, and very mindful activity. You can buy your own beeswax online fairly cheeply and you can get a roll of candle wick too. I’ve had good luck making candles out of old mason jars and plant pots… and other random garage sale type finds.

    I also have 2 young kids, so my candles are all located on specailly bought hanging wall sconces, or on high shelves around the house.

  21. I was in Norway visiting my inlaws and many friends over Christmas. MAN it gets dark early there! We were in the south and it was fully dark by 3.30 every afternoon. But I was struck by how every house we visited had candles all over, and lit them every night. It seems to me that if you live in a place that has the rhythm of darkness, you must find ways to bring the light. (I will say, though, that we had a barbeque party in the street the night of Winter Solstice, to celebrate the ever-gradual but ever-promised return of the light!!! What a metaphor for Advent & Christmas, eh??

  22. I just packed up our Advent candles and I’m already missing having them lit in the evenings. I should pull out some other candles to enjoy! I know it’s time, but I’m loathe to take down our tree and Christmas lights because they cheer up the dark evenings!

  23. This post is great! Winter is indeed isolating and once the anticipation of Christmas is past the long dark months can stretch forever. We just got new bedside lamps from Costco and now I’m loving my bedtime routine where I used to avoid it. Rituals help us to be present don’t they!

  24. Love this! I am a huge fan of Aroma Naturals candles. The spa I go to has always burned these and I’ve become a candle snob now and only want to burn these!

  25. avatar
    Bonnie Jean says:

    I was born on the Jersey Shore in the fall. I have no idea what the weather was like but I know that I would love to live in a land of endless summer. I hate the darkness and I hate the cold. For me… light and heat are key. I keep the heat on to a higher temp than most of my friends do. And the air conditioner gets very little use. I also like light all the time… even at night. I do not like total darkness. I have many candles and some lanterns that are smokeless due to very clean oil which is not cheap. Never use a candle with any metal in its wick. The more expensive candles are generally better. Yankee Candles are generally pretty good. Soy candles are generally the best. The slower burning candles are generally the best and beeswax candles are also generally very good. Right now I am living without a fireplace, but i hate it. I cannot wait until we can afford to move to a place with a woodburning fireplace again… even if you just put candles in it … it feels homier and warmer. And I avoid cold foods. I heat everything. I don’t eat ice cream anymore except in the heat of summer. I prefer heat and light to dark and cold. The colors you paint your home can help to. Bright pure white can be cold. Ivory or french vanilla is warmer. Pale yellows without too much green or orange in them are good. Warm sandy beige with white trim is good. Sage green is relaxing. Log Cabins are very homey and warming. Music can warm you to… you have to experiment.

  26. I love this idea!! For me just walking with my dog in the snow and seeing how pretty it is and the bare trees against the sky is calming. But I do get tired of the cold/snow by February.
    I’ve never been much of a candle girl, too worried about it being knocked over by the kids or the pets.
    Might have to start just lighting one candle at night though. Thanks for the inspiration !

  27. Thank you for this. I think a lot of people have winter darkness blues but not much is sad about what to do with this feeling. I vote moving Christmas to mid-January which will give people something to look forward to as winter begins to drag on. I love candles but hadn’t thought much about it in conjunction. All I need now is to find a place that sells non-toxic candles. Any ideas?

  28. I am a candle burner, 3 to 4 tealigyts burn throughout house from sundown until they burn out about bed time. Like you indicated, makes house feel cozier, less lonely on the longgggg winter nights

  29. I’m so glad you have found the flameless candles, especially with little ones in the house. I absolutely love candles for the brightness and serenity they bring. My sister lives in Ohio, where it gets much colder than here in California, and she has battery-operated candles in every window-sill in her home all winter. My favorite candles are from Partylite, because their fragrances are SO delicious! I, too, love the sunlight and will be very glad when the days start getting longer. – Fawn

  30. My family and I are currently experiencing the 1st true winter of our lives, as we moved from coastal SC to the Midwest this past July. Good grief, it is cold here! We don’t burn candles very often, but I do crave some festive light during the cold winter evenings. I asked my husband to leave up the string of Christmas lights that he framed our front window with – just for the time being. He graciously obliged, and we have been enjoying the soft twinkling of lights during this polar/arctic/whatever it is blast!

  31. I love this, Megan. I used to burn candles all of the time but since having kids and then learning about clean burning candles/petroleum based, etc, I pretty much stopped using them. And the scented ones really do bother me. But I miss them so! I have realized that I loved having the white lights on the Christmas tree turned on every evening because it had the same effect for me. My sister lives in Minnesota and they build a fire in their fireplace every single evening. I think it’s their main winter survival tactic (plus a nice trip somewhere warm every Jan or Feb, ha!). I am inspired – I am going to invest in some new clean burning unscented candles and take up this ritual, too.

  32. As I become older, my winter blahs just get worse. I love candles and a roaring fire, but only because those things are relaxing to me. Just as scented candles bring about a calm. Sadly, those things do not help me with my seasonal blues. I crave sunshine beating down with 95 degree temps & high humidity. What possibly could I do to make my wintertime more meaningful?

  33. I love winter and do not enjoy summer. Wait, let me explain! I live in California’s Central Valley, where it is often over 100 for days on end in the summer. You can’t get outdoors because it is hot even before dawn and after dark! I dread June through September, plus the last few years it is still in the 90’s sometimes in October!

    In this climate I think I have enough daylight and sunshine to get me through our short “winter”. In about a month the almonds will blossom and the daffodils will pop up. What I LOVE doing in the winter evenings is having a fire in the fire place. In spring we move that routine outdoors to our patio firepit.

    I know you all will laugh, but I want to live more north where it snows!

  34. I love winter and don’t really enjoy summer but the darkness does start to get to me right around this time of year. My son just loves lighting candles but I don’t let him all the time (he gets a bit OCD about it all) but you know what? I am just going to let him go to town every night now. This could be just what I need.

  35. This is oh-so-beautiful! I get the winter blahs too, and I feel like a wimp because I live in a Mediterranean country where temperatures rarely go below 32 F. I use candles during the DAY to help me stay calm while home schooling, but other than when we have guests, I don’t use them at night. But your post makes me long for that cozy candle feeling at night.

  36. avatar
    beth lehman says:

    i lit ‘em up yesterday when my 5th grade twins were each working on a research project and additional homework… my husband was working late and we had cereal for dinner… just having the candles lit was a reminder to be present and calm. it helped so much!

  37. When I was diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and started using light therapy in the mornings it was a great relief. However, the long dark nights are still a bit rough. Each January I am a bit sad to away the Christmas lights, though I like to shed the clutter. I think the use of candles (or even flameless candles) is brilliant and I will begin enjoying this ritual too! Thank you!

  38. First off, I would like to say that I love your website and I read your articles whey day. I just had to comment today because I feel like I could have written it myself. I have lived in Canada my whole life and I get the exact same winter blues after Christmas when the fun is over and it’s dark and cold. I am also in my thirties and I have three kids. I love the candle idea but with a 3 year old, twin girls (12 months) 2 dogs and a cat, it is out of the question. But, I am going to file it away for when they are older, and it was just really nice to see that someone out there feels like I do. Cheers!

  39. Nothing better than candles on a cold and dark winter’s night. We have a very similar ritual starting in Advent. Before the Christmas season, however, starting with Martinmas, we make lanterns and light our house with those. We often even take them out on our lantern walks, as long as the evenings are not too cold.

  40. I love scented candles! Over the last few years we’ve transitioned mostly to burning scented oils. The Body Shop has a cranberry scent that it sells every year and for the last three years we’ve been stocking up for the year! We used to go through so many candles and this is way cheaper. Tea lights work just as well for us :)

  41. I love lighting candles, especially in the colder months (such as they are here in Florida…). My mom witnessed a house fire as a small child and because of this never wanted to burn candles in her house, so I grew up in a home that only ever had candles on birthday cakes. Then I had a period of candle rebellion when I went to college; my roommates thought I was strange because I had several and would light them all the time! I\’ve calmed down about them now but I do love what they add to a home\’s atmosphere.

  42. I like to use candle in dark winter’s night. but we can get some good and smart light for it in market.

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