On February 2, the Church traditionally celebrates Candlemas. In honor of that lovely feast, I've posted here some gathered thoughts on candlelight throughout our day. There's still time to make some candles and they're certainly time to purchase them. Actually, it's never too late to light a little fire and I've never met a priest who is unwilling to bless them, no matter when you ask.
Candlelight in the Morning
I set the box aside, even before the Christmas season ended. The Candlemas box. On February 2, when the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we will go to Mass and have our candles blessed*. I have been placing in that box the candles I will use in my home this year. There are some large jar candles, some smaller votive candles, two boxes of brand new advent candles, some beeswax tapers. These are the lights, the flames, that mark the hours of our days.
In the atrium, we teach the children that the flame is the light of Christ and the smoke is our prayers going up to heaven. My children love this concept! Each day, a candle illuminates the hour, warms the moment, brings us into the presence of Him who is Light. In our home, the first candle of the day is the one on the prayer table. There, next to the icons, is a large glass candle, safely up away from little hands. This is a candle that might burn all day.
I light it in the morning for my personal time with my Bible and a cup of tea. I love the way the light dances off the icons. If there are specific and pressing prayers for which I have been asked to pray, I leave it lit. These candles burn for a long time and they fill the air with scent. Both the light and the scent call to mind prayer intentions throughout my day. I've been slowly gathering these, one at a time, as I am able. I'm sure I don't have enough for the whole year, but I do have several to be blessed. I've also poured some beeswax candles of my own, to supplement the stock. I'm hopeful these will burn well, but it is certainly still experimental.
This candle's light is central in our home. We see it as we go up and down the stairs. We see it when we come and go through the front door. And it is the first thing my children see when they come downstairs to find me in the morning. The day begins in the glow of golden light.
A good beginning, I think.
Candlelight at the Table
In addition to the prayer table candles, my basket of candles to be blessed holds lots of small pillar candles that fit in plain glass votive candle holders.
Let me back up a bit.
As Advent began this year, I was determined that even if I did nothing else, I would ensure that we sat at the table for dinner and lit those candles often enough that the first two candles burned all the way down. If the first one needed to be replaced, all the better. December can be tricky. Ball practices, Nutcracker rehearsals and holiday busy-ness converge to make the time absurdly busy. I was determined to ensure that we gathered at the table to pray and to break bread together every single day. And I did it! The candles were lit. The song was sung. The prayers were said. We sat together around the table every night. We ate and we talked and we connected.
For Christmas, the girls and I got a little giddy with tablescapes--lots of color and light the whole length of the tables. It was so pretty I wished it could be that way always. But tablescapes are really impractical. My tablecloths are washed almost daily and all those little pieces were cumbersome. Still, I wanted to bring the light of Christmas to our dinner tables throughout the year.
A couple years ago, I was talking to a group of soccer moms and dads on the sidelines before the match began. The talk turned to dinnertime and every single person in the group was slackjawed when I said (in answer to a direct question) that I cook dinner every night. This was a group of doctors, lawyers, corporate executives, and accountants. They told me how hard they found the whole concept of putting a meal on the table. The refrigerator was empty. The kids were coming and going. No one really knew how to cook. I admit to stammering a bit as I shared about menu planning, grocery lists, and regular dinner times. It's not brain surgery or international law. Making family dinners happen does require sound management with a generous dash of creativity. And it benefits greatly from the resolve that comes from recognizing the value. We make sure our children take showers and brush their teeth. All those parents make sure their children get to soccer practice. I choose to make sure that my family eats a real dinner every night. I think it's important. It's worth the effort.
The nitty gritty is that I make a plan every week and I more-or-less stick with it. The grocery list is keyed to the menu plan. Usually, I rotate three different weekly meal plans, changing them out seasonally or when we get bored. I cook. Most days, I start cooking dinner very early in the day, pulling several children into the process, cutting, stirring and measuring. Often, it all ends up in a Dutch oven to slowly bake or stew while we go about our day.
I shoot for the middle when scheduling dinner. It's not that often that everyone is home around the table at the same time, but usually most of us have a window when we can eat together. For those who can't be home at dinner time, I set aside individual plates, so that whenever they get home there is something nourishing waiting--something that let's them know they were remembered and they are loved. I call Mike late in the day and check his schedule. If he'll be home before 7:30, I make it work to wait for him (whatever it takes--snacks, a walk to the playground, bribery). Over the years, I've learned that my husband looks very forward to sitting at the head of that table and eating with his family. And they hang in there and wait for him; they want him there. If he absolutely cannot be home by 7:30, I feed the children and then set aside some kind of dessert from them to eat with him while he eats dinner. If he's not going to be home in time, I also set his dinner plate aside first, taking an extra moment to make it pretty. My children notice this attention to detail and I think it makes them smile. Overall, when it comes to dinner, there is a plan, a daily plan, and we work the plan.
Our dining room table is set with a tablecloth, real dishes, and --now-- candles.
The candles soften the mood, take the edge off the busy buzz of the people who gather. Lending this glow to our evening meal requires very little of me. I saved a few votive candles from our Christmas table and put them atop our cake plate. We light plain, unscented candles that don't compete with the smells of dinner. It's definitely not perfect. I'm on the hunt for a different cake plate when the budget permits. The one we have doesn't really go with either the decor or the season. It works well enough, though. The "centerpiece" is easily removed to change the tablecloth. And the effect is really quite civilized.
Candlelight invites us to sit a little longer. Candlelight casts us all in kinder glow. Candlelight makes every evening meal a little feast.
Candlelight at the End of the Day
As light fades and blinds are drawn, as books are read and prayers are said, the home cries out for candlelight. Those moments when we are reading bedtime stories and saying bedtime prayers and tucking children in tight might seem like the perfect time to light a candle and rest in the soft glow. But not in my house.
I have fallen asleep myself while putting little ones to sleep far too many times to risk leaving a candle burning when I am in any bed at the end of the day.
Still, I like the idea of ending the day the way we began it: in the soft light of a candle. Bathtime is a big deal in my house. It's another one of those things, like dinner time, that I always assumed other families did, but I was surprised to find it sort of exceptional. Nearly every night, the routine includes a bath for little ones--often bubbles, bath toys, a good scrubbing, hair washing, and time to play and pour. I'm in there the whole time; it's definite focused attention. And we light a candle as the routine begins.
The candle quiets things a bit and it slows the pace a the end of the day. I put the candle on the bathroom counter; the happy coincidence of this placement is that the counter stays clean. It just seems odd to me to bother to light a pretty candle in the middle of a counter littered with toothpaste tubes, lipgloss, and contact lens solution. For now, our candles are of the beeswax variety and our soap comes from Whole Foods, gathered from the table with locally made soap. Someday, when little people aren't around, I might give soapmaking a try. But for now, I'll leaving handling lye to someone else. We usually add some Epsom salts to the bath water (that is an outrageously high price; Target sells it for $4) and I almost always add DoTerra Serenity oil. I love those scents so much and I am sure that one day when I am a very old lady, if I am fortunate enough to smell a lovely mix of lavendar and eucalyptus and vanilla, it will bring back the happiest memories of freshly bathed babies, nursing to sleep, and sweet little people who still insist on my presence as they drift off.
After the bath, little girls are bundled up into a towel, patted dry and gently laid on a warm towel on the bathroom rug for a good rubbing. Ever since Christian was a little boy in desperate need of quiet evening rituals, we have given our children evening massages. We rub them with lavender oil or homemade healing salve and we sing a song we made up all those many years ago
i rub, rub, rub you
'cause i love, love, love you
yes i do
oh, i do,
i really do!
Silly, goofy, and not at all polished, it works for us. And if we even think about skipping it, Sarah reminds us, "Need my rub, rub." She sings along. I am all too aware that our days of bubbles and rubbing are nearly at end, as most of my children have graduated to utilitarian showers all by themselves. But this ritual is so well loved, so very much a part of the rhythm of our days, I like the chances of candles, lavender oil, and the "rub-rub song" surviving into the next generation.