Candles have an ancient long and celebrated history of being our source of light and illuminating our celebrations for more than 5,000 years! In ancient times we primarily see candles made from tallow (animal fat) and beeswax, but have been made from spermaceti, an organ in a sperm whales head, purified animal fats known as stearin and paraffin wax in recent centuries.
The earliest use of candles is the Ancient Egyptians, who made torches by soaking the reeds/rushes in melted animal tallow. This torch known as a rushlight had no wick like a true candle and would quickly burn up. Along come the Romans around 100 BC who created a wicking system by loosely weaving fibres together and dipping this wick into the tallow to produce our first wicked candle and therefore a longer burn time.
Historians claim that many other early civilizations developed a wicked candle using waxes made from available plants and insects. The Chinese would mould a paper tube from rice paper for the wick and wax was made from a combination of insects and seeds. In Japan, candle wax was extracted from tree nuts. Indian candles were made for temples with wax being extracted by boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree which would have smelt amazing! Yak butter was used for candles in Tibet and indigenous people from Alaska used the oil of a fish called Eulachon or "candlefish", where they would simply pop the dried fish on a stick and then light it!
The ancient Greeks were using candles to decorate their moon shaped cakes to symbolize the glowing moon to worship the temple of Artemis, the Goddess of the hunt and the moon. By the 1700 they were using candles to represent every passing moon, which is now a worldwide birthday tradition.
Coming into the middle ages in western cultures we see the poor still using tallow fat, which smells vile. Whilst the churches and the wealthy would have used beeswax, which when burnt is pure, clean and sweet smelling.
By the 13th century candle making had become a gilded craft across England and Europe. Chandlers went from house to house making candles from the kitchen fats that was saved for this purpose.
With the invention of the light bulb in 1879, candle making began to decline for a time, but as we move into the 20th century the growth of oil leads to an increase of a by-product called paraffin. This is where we start to see our modern day candle evolve from just a source of light, they are honouring ceremonies, setting the ambiance, igniting romance, soothing and calming our minds and quickly becoming the perfect home decor gift.
Today we see the use of novelty candles in all shapes, sizes, colours and, of course fragrances.