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 by: David Chandler

A candle is a light source usually consisting of an internal wick which rises through the center of a column of solid fuel. Typically the fuel is some form of wax with paraffin wax being the most common. Prior to the candle being ignited, the wick is saturated with the fuel in its solid form. The heat of the match or other flame being used to light the candle first melts and then vaporizes a small amount of the fuel. Once vaporized, the fuel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a flame. This flame then provides sufficient heat to keep the candle burning via a self-sustaining chain of events: the heat of the flame melts the top of the mass of solid fuel, the liquefied fuel then moves upward through the wick via capillary action, and the liquefied fuel is then vaporized to burn within the candle's flame. The burning of the fuel takes place in several distinct regions (as evidenced by the various colors that can be seen within the candle's flame). Within the bluer, hotter regions, hydrogen is being separated from the fuel and burned to form water vapor. The brighter, yellower part of the flame is the remaining carbon soot being oxidized to form carbon dioxide.

As the mass of the solid fuel is melted and consumed, the candle grows shorter. Portions of the wick that are not evaporating the liquid fuel are themselves consumed in the flame, limiting the exposed length of the wick.


Prior to the domestication of electricity, candles were a common source of lighting, before, and later in addition to, the oil lamp. Due to local availability and the cost of resources, for several centuries up to the 19th century candles were more common in northern Europe, and olive oil lamps more common in southern Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea. Makers of candles were known as chandlers.

Today, candles are usually used for their aesthetic value, particularly to set a soft, warm, or romantic ambience, and for emergency lighting during electrical power failures. Scented candles are common in aromatherapy. Small candles are often placed on birthday cakes.


Candles are used in religious ceremonies.


In Christianity, they typically represent the light of Jesus, and are often placed on the altar. Votive candles may be lit as an accompaniment to prayer. Candles are lit by worshippers in front of icons in Orthodox and other churches.

Candlemas marks the end of the season of Epiphany.

Candles were traditionally used to light up Christmas trees before the advent of electric lights. They are still, even today, commonly used to decorate Christmas trees in Denmark and other European countries. They are also used in Advent wreaths.

In Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries), St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13 with the crowning of a young girl with a ring of candles.


In Judaism, candles are traditionally lit on Friday evening at the start of the weekly Sabbath celebration. The Jewish holiday of Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting a candle in a special candelabrum (menorah) each night during the eight-day holiday to commemorate the dedication of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. Candles are also used in remembering a deceased loved one, especially on Yom HaShoah, The Day of the Holocaust.


Candles are also used in celebrations of Kwanzaa, which is an African American holiday, which runs from December 26 to January 1.

About The Author

David Chandler

For more information about candles, visit

This article was posted on November 07, 2005


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