Though technically the days are getting longer, it always feels like February is the darkest and coldest month. Perhaps it’s that summer feels very long ago and winter is starting to impose itself like an omnipresent eternal. Or perhaps it’s because seemingly everywhere we look now, candles—hand-hewn, sculptural, folkloric or modern—are making their way onto dinner tables, bookshelves, countertops, and all our other domestic nooks and crannies. After all, the glow of a fire does present a very primordial creature comfort in a time when—for many reasons—we could all use a little warmth. Now feels like the perfect moment to let some light in. Here are a few of our favorite flames from around the world.
Hand-dipped and made from 100-percent pure beeswax, these traditional tapers are made by St. John’s Monastery in Cobleskill, New York. Created as a devotional candle for Orthodox prayer and ceremony, but equally at home on the dinner table or mantle, these slender beams of light can be ordered in the same measure as all the world’s best delicacies (cheese, coffee, mortadella): by the pound. A single one will yield you 30-38 candles—or just enough to make it through February.
Big in Japan
Founded in 1892, Takazawa Candles are one of the last remaining candle producers in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, an area known for the craft. These sculptural NANAO sumac candles are created using the uniquely Japanese method in practice since the 16th century: a hollow cord of washi rice paper is wrapped by hand with dried rushes before being cast in wooden molds and shaped by hand. The result is a flame that burns brighter (and faster, at just over 100 minutes) than Western candles—illuminating the dinner table just long enough for dessert.
These delicate, hand-carved candles were traditionally created for use in ceremonies, weddings, and quinceaños, but are experiencing a contemporary moment as they make their way North of the border, thanks to some intrepid taste-making importers. Our favorites come from Casa Viviana, a multi-generational workshop in Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico. The candles are hand-dipped in local beeswax dyed with natural pigments like vibrant cochineal and adorned with a filigree of hand-carved roses, alcatrazes (calla lilies), fruits and birds. Catch them before they sell out at Kneeland Co. in LA, or head straight to the source: firstname.lastname@example.org
Festival of Lights
During Diwali – the celebration festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil – these little cups of light dot riversides and homes, casting light into shadows. Made from clay or metal, these tiny vessels contain a single piece of cotton that’s been dipped in vegetable oil or ghee to create the flame. While the current record for number of diya lit simultaneously hovers somewhere near 600,000, they are no less enchanting when seen in smaller numbers. Look for them in local Indian markets leading up to Diwali in November or, for more immediate ambiance, try these.
Today, contemporary interpretations abound as designers put their own stamp (or dip) on these traditional forms. Dutch designer Lex Pott’s Twist literally burns the candle at both ends, while New York’s Hannah Jewett has reimagined our favorite nocturnal counting animal as a modernist sculpture in wax with Lamb. The pillar gets a contemporary turn with Areaware’s Totem collection and Tony Assness’s pure beeswax columns, hand poured in Bondi, Australia. For those daring enough to burn them, they emit a softly sweet scent honey—melding, as all candles do—warmth, light, and tradition to atmospheric delight.
Abbye Churchill is a multidisciplinary artist and author who works with textiles, plants, food, and community. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Food + Wine and W, among others. She was the Editorial Director of Wilder magazine and her first book, A Wilder Life was featured in the New York Times Book Review’s “Best of Summer.” Her most recent title is The Gardens of Eden: New Residential Garden Concepts & Architecture for a Greener Planet. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.