Monday, January 16, 2012


Yesterday we untrimmed the tree. I sure hated to see it go and I took the candle stubs and melted them in a pan, then I took a string and dipped it in the wax, so I made a candle. It sure was bumpy but it worked.
Shirley Jean (Ina’s granddaughter), January 1937

Shirley Jean would have been eleven when she and her parents spent this Christmas of 1936 at the farm with Ina and Julian. The tree was lit by small white candles in holders that were clipped to the branches. Of an evening, they would light the tree for a few minutes, sit together to admire it, then blow out the candles. So, Shirley Jean is saying that she made a new candle by melting the stubs of the candles that adorned the tree.

After Christmas, we all put everything away and it’s business as usual. While the holiday / celebration mode just can’t go on forever, I like to think that Christmas as an event leaves me better than it found me – that some bit of it lingers to brighten my heart during the dark days of January. Candles are a good example.

This year, burning candles is on my “to do” list. I have a burgeoning collection of candles – from the partially burned to brand new. This year I have resolved to burn up at least the partially used. It’s not fun to be a saver of used candles, but I was raised in a household that did just that.

This fading photo was taken on Christmas Eve in 1957 or so. It shows my dad lighting the candles on the buffet table – candles he made. I was just a little girl, but perhaps Daddy meant to be sharing the experience with me because I knew what was happening with every step. I remember saving waxed milk and cream cartons for the molds. On candle-making day, Daddy heated wax in an old pan and poured it into the molds. The candles were red and green – coloring provided by old color crayons melted in the wax. The coloring was really not intense enough. Today we’d think nothing of buying a couple of boxes of crayons in primary colors just for this project, but a new box of crayons was a big deal in my ‘50’s world. It seems like ice chips in the hot wax left irregularly-shaped pockets in the candle. I remember Daddy tearing the waxed cardboard off the hardened wax. As a finishing touch, he whipped hot wax until it was frothy and poured it over the candles.

When Christmas was over, we wrapped the candles in tissue paper and stored them with the Christmas decorations. Every year we burned them just a little. And then they looked old and we didn’t get them out any more, but we still had them wrapped in tissue paper for years. Maybe not all families save such things, but mine did.

Once I suggested to Mother that we should make candles again. “It was a big mess!” she said, and I knew I was talking to the clean-up person. I could just see the little specks of wax, frustratingly adhered to stove top, counter, windows, maybe even curtains. And that doesn't even count the cooking utensils. Now I knew why we had never done that fun project again. My suggestion had fallen on deaf ears. That was that.

Mother loved candles, though. She burned them sometimes, and she hoarded quite a number of them. I think she kept a certain number on hand in case of emergency – because, you know, the electricity used to go out with some regularity, and sometimes it was not immediately restored. Candles, matches, and flashlights were necessities. KW


drMolly, the BeanQueen said...

Ah! I remember those candles made with icecubes in them. They were made in girl scouts, in 4-H, at home, etc. to be used as gifts for our loved ones at the holiday time. We even got to make bee's wax ones on occasion when my dad brought home bee's wax from some old wild bee "hive" he would find in the woods. We got honey then, too. Mmmmmmmmmm

Kathy said...

Wow! It's cool that you remember those candles, too. Perhaps your project leaders were more fastidious than my dad. I would still love to give this retro crafts project a try.

Chris said...

I remember seeing candles like that. They were cool!

When Dan and I were first married, we ordered a candle making kit from Sears and made pillar candles and some in the shape of trees and snowmen. There was even paint in the kit to highlight the ornaments on the tree and snowmen's features. We had a lot of fun with it.

As to saving candles, I confess to doing the same thing. I'm trying to learn to burn them up and enjoy them, but it's hard.

Leah said...

What nice memories. Never did do "homemade candles." Reading about your dad's candle adventures, I was thinking about wax left behind. I saw the old pan that had to be used only for melting wax. I saw him "whipping" the hot wax at the end and thought of an egg beater. Then I thought that whatever he used to whip the gooey mess was probably an old fork (never to be used for anything else again). I don't blame your mom for wanting the candle making to be a memory never to be revisited.

Keeping candles until they are "used up" is what I do. Do people throw them away before they are burned down to the very end?

Funny how things go full circle. Candles were utilitarian when first invented (light/clocks). Then they were decorative. Soon candle designers outdid each other with unique styles. Now we think of them as messengers of comfort with scents of vanilla, cinnamon, sandalwood, strawberries or tangerines. Everyone needs comfort and we are back to a real purpose for the candle.

I don't know if anyone else has this problem, but I have orphan candle holders. When I bought the candles & candle holder at the same time, it seemed like a great idea. Later I could no longer find candles for the holder. Even when I went back to the same store, no luck. One particular holder was made of cast iron, was low and had a dozen little holes on the top. Think a small lump of smooth coal. The pencil thin candles were about 12" tall. It was in the 70's and I thought it was very chic. When I tried to get more candles, it was impossible. Tried for years. The chic candle holder eventually went to Goodwill.

Kathy said...

I, too, have noticed that certain candle styles are difficult to find, most notably long thin tapers. I had a wrought iron holder in the '70s that held about a dozen such tapers. I finally let it go. Frankly, it was probably a dangerous design. Nowadays we like those votive / tea candle types or candles in jars. I like tapers, too, but those have to be watched and can be messy.

It takes some time to burn a good candle. Winter passes and the partially burned candle still has hours to burn, so I put it away. Multiply that by a number of candles, and pretty soon I'm out of storage space.

Hallie said...

Was there a fireplace in the dining room at Grandma's house? I don't know about this ice chip thing with the candles. When do you drop the ice into the wax? After it's poured into the mold?

Kathy said...

The dining room in that picture would be the t.v. room of your memory. Do you remember watching t.v. there and the fireplace? When this picture was taken, the fireplace didn't work, but they remodeled and fixed it. We spent a lot of time in that room.

I don't know the exact method, but I'm sure the ice was added to the wax while it was hot. The ice caused pockets to form in the wax.

Hallie said...

Oh yes, I remember the fireplace in the TV room. I remember the giant TV, the phone table with the telephone that had big numbers and I remember the metal tight rope man who balanced on top of a stand with just the point of his foot.

I also remember the blue couch that ended up with me at college. :)

Kathy said...

I barely remember the tightrope man. It seems to me the man balanced a bar of some sort. Hmmmm.

"Giant tv" (LOL) -- I would wager the tv you have hung on your wall has a bigger screen than Grandma's did. It only seemed big because it was a console model.