candles at both ends

As the nights get longer up here in the Northern hemisphere, we look forward to having a bit more light. When you’re not in the mood for a lightbulb, you might consider lighting a candle.

Candles are used for a wide range of purposes: religious, decorative, symbolic, and as a light source for when the electricity goes out. Here’s a list of a few candle things and candle traditions to light up your evening on this Themed Thing Thursday.

A list with candles at both ends (and in the middle)


  • Hanukkah
    The 8-day Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, is observed in part by the nightly lighting candles in the Hanukkah Menorah, or Hanukiah. Today was the second day of Hanukkah. (Hanukiyot photo by photo by Beth Brewer.)
  • Christmas
    Candles are also featured in many celebrations of the Christian holiday Christmas, such as with advent candles. Other traditions include using candles to decorate, such as using them on trees. Contemporary Christmas tree lights evolved from this tradition, as electricity became available, though in Denmark, people still decorate Christmas trees with real lighted candles. People will also place candles in windows, a practice said to have been popularized in Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Lucia’s Day
    In Sweden, as part of the traditional celebration of this holiday (December 13th), girls will wear a wreath on the head with lit candles to celebrate Saint Lucia.¹ “>Apparently people have also moved to battery-operated candles:

    In Sweden we do not wear candles anymore because before girls caught their hair on fire very often. Today we use modern candles with batteries in them.

  • Birthday cakes are often decorated with miniature candles. The candles often represent the age of the person having the birthday, whether by using number-shaped candles, candles arranged in the shape of a number, or most often, a candle for each year of age.
  • Sixteen Candles (1984) A John Hughes movie starring Molly Ringwald as a girl whose 16th birthday is overlooked.
  • Candle in the Wind A song by Elton John (lyrics by Bernie Taupin) written in honor of Marilyn Monroe in 1973, rededicated it to AIDS victim Ryan White in 1990, and rewritten and remade in honor of Princess Diana in 1997.
  • The Babylon candle: A magic candle appears in the movie Stardust (2007), allowing the user to travel great distances. I found a suggestion that the source of the name for this candle is the nursery rhyme:

    How many miles to Babylon?
    Three score miles and ten.
    Can I get there by candlelight?
    Yes, and back again.

  • hold a candle to: an expression meaning “measure up to.” Usually used with a negative, as in: X can’t hold a candle to Y, A could never hold a candle to B, the word trousers doesn’t hold a candle to pants.
  • light a candle for: People will light a candle to show remembrance of someone (such as Yahrtzeit in Judaism) or in support of some cause, such as “lighting a candle for peace.” The phrase has also been used more generally as an expression, often interpreted as “say a prayer for,” possibly based on the tradition of lighting a candle in a church to accompany a prayer. The expression is also sometimes interpreted in reference to leaving a lit candle in the window as a beacon for a loved one who is away.
  • not worth the candle: an expression meaning worthless, or not worth the expense
  • burn a candle from both ends: an expression meaning get little sleep due to being busy from early in the morning till late at night, or to generally work too hard and spend energy recklessly:

    Our current understanding of this phrase refers to a life that is lived frenetically and unsustainably – working or enjoying oneself late into the night only to begin again early the next day. It didn’t having that meaning when it was first coined in the 18th century. The both ends then weren’t the ends of the day but were a literal reference to both ends of a candle. Candles were useful and valuable (see not worth the candle) and the notion of waste suggested by lighting both ends at once implied reckless waste. This thought may well have been accentuated by the fact that candles may only be lit at both ends when held horizontally, which would cause them to drip and burn out quickly.

  • You can also see a short movie of someone actually burning a candle at both ends. (YouTube)
  • —————–

    ¹ My friend Gregory, who recently moved to Sweden mentioned recently that he would soon be sharing some information on this tradition:

    They put candles everywhere except the roof of their cars (they do wear them on their heads, as I will explain in a couple of weeks)…

    11 thoughts on “candles at both ends

    1. Love Sixteen Candles!! Love it! Just watched it again a few weeks ago…

      When I had Christmas in Switzerland in 95 the tree had real candles. The funny bit was that my friend’s dad said they used candles because electric lights were a fire hazard. Hmm…

    2. I can’t believe my grandfather just felt me up!

      And John Cusack as a little baby dork … aww.

      Sorry. Got a little misty-eyed for the pre-crap John Hughes oeuvre.

      We’ve been lighting candles at dinner, all over the main floor, every night for weeks. It’s just so damned dark up here in Canada.

    3. Do you know the movie “The Ref”? Great candles-on-heads scene in that one – after Saint Lucia.

      I kind of want to go home and put a candle on the roof of my car…

    4. i had a friend in elementary school who always dressed up for santa lucia day with her mom and her sister. they would sing this lovely song as they walked around the classroom in white robes with red sashes and wreathes with candles, handing out santa lucia rolls – sweet bread twisted into an s shape, with raisins on either end of the twist. i don’t think they ever caught on fire, but it was always a little worrisome. it was really sweet.

    5. my grandmother, who taught festivals and celebrations for nearly 40 years at her unitarian church, made santa lucia part of her yearly events. i don’t remember the candles ever being lit when the children wore the lucia crowns during the procession into the service, but in later years she substituted real candles for mock candles made of paper and gold and red cellophane for the fire.

    6. If you’re interested, I wrote aboud aromatherapy soy candles here -

      Easy to clean the wax, not made from animals, and they are good for you

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