Summary: We are so accustomed to our artificial light that we don't appreciate the purpose of the candle and its inviting glow that provides guidance and warmth.
Matthew 5:14-16 (14) Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. (15) Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
I. While candles are now predominantly used as decoration or as a means of infusing fragrance. Historically they provided a vital source of light for homes and businesses, and were also used in religious and spiritual worship. Across the centuries, candle making has taken many forms. With different cultures using their own unique methods and ingredients to create these simple, yet hugely significant, products.
A. Like many aspects of modern life, candles owe their existence to the ancient Romans. They began producing dipped tallow candles in the year 500 BC. These early candles were made using tallow wax, which was derived from the meat of cows and sheep, and an unwound strand of twine.
1. While candles were popular in Roman times, the main source of light came from oil lamps. Olive oil was cheaper and more prevalent across the Empire. Candles were considered a luxury item, and were often given as gifts during Saturnalia. A festival celebrating the Classical Roman god, Saturn. In ancient China they had candles made from whale fat and some beeswax. In ancient India, candles were made using a combination of boiled cinnamon and yak butter. Creating the world’s first fragrant scented candle.
2. The ancient indigenous tribes of contemporary Alaska and Canada used the ‘candlefish’, as a source of light and heat. These small, smelt fish contain rich quantities of oil, which was ideal for sustained lighting. The indigenous people of North America would dry the candlefish on a long wooden stick before lighting it, creating a powerful natural candle, that just stunk.
B. After the fall of the Roman Empire, olive oil became a scarce commodity across Europe. Leading to a shortage of fuel for oil lamps and burners. This caused a surge in demand for quality candles. From there, the first commercially-viable dedicated candle makers were born.
1. Tallow became the go-to ingredient for candle making across Europe, but had its downsides. When burned, the glycerin inside tallow produced a strong unpleasant odor and its wax gave off a poor, dim source of light. Beeswax was discovered to be a much more reliable substance for candle production. Producing a clean, odorless burn and a brighter light. However, its expense meant that it was reserved only for the richest of the upper classes. With the common folk left to fill their homes with the stench of tallow for the next five centuries.
2. In the 18th century, as the global whaling industry began to grow. An oil was discovered in the head of the sperm whale which proved ideal in mass candle making. Like beeswax, it didn’t produce a horrible smell when burned. By the 19th century, candles were made on an industrial scale. This also saw the introduction of braided, rather than twisted, wicks. Which helped to produce better performing, self-trimming candles.
3. In the 1850s, Paraffin wax made from coal and oil shales was used to mass-produce candles that were inexpensive and offered a high-performing burn. Despite huge leap forwards in candle making, the industry began declining rapidly after the invention of the light bulb. People no longer needed candles as a source of light, making them more of a luxury than a commodity. Now candles are no longer burned for their light but more ornamental pieces. We use them to set modes and scenes, we use them for an aroma. Some have taken on a status symbol due to the brand or style.
II. We take candles for granted these days. When the power is out, we are quick to turn on a flash light or now our phones to guide us through the darkness. We may eventually light a few candles to overcome the darkness, but once the power is restored, they are immediately extinguished in favor of our modern lights.
A. There is something about a candle burning in the dark. There is a sense of warmth and comfort that comes from a lit candle. Phones and flashlights don’t feel the same in the dark as a candle does.
1. Artificial light can be distracting and off putting. It always seems to be overwhelming and blinding at times. Its light always seems to be harsh.
B. Careful attention is made to make a candle serve its purpose. From the wick to the type of wax. Candles come in all shapes and sizes but no matter how they look their main purpose is to give off light. It took centuries to produce a candle that didn’t distract from the light.