Candles play an important role in many winter holidays. Candlelight is not only lovely and mesmerizing to look at, but there is typically a special meaning attached.

An important part of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or “The Festival of Lights,” is the nightly lighting of a candle on the menorah, a candelabrum that holds nine candles. Eight candles represent the eight nights of Hanukkah, and the ninth candle, called the “shamash,” is used to light the others.

Some Americans of African descent honor their heritage and traditions of their ancestors by celebrating Kwanzaa. Each day they light one of seven candles in a candelabrum called the “kinara.” Each candle represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

The Christmas holiday uses candles and light in a variety of ways, from the light of the star over Bethlehem to the lighting of one candle each of the four weeks during Advent (four weeks prior to Christmas).

Do you use candles at your house as part of your holiday decorations or celebrations? Have you ever stopped to wonder how they’re made?

Not much is known about the origin of candles. Some believe the first candles appeared in China in about 200 B.C. The first Chinese candles were probably made with whale fat.

Others credit the Ancient Egyptians with inventing candles. According to some historians, the Ancient Egyptians used rushlights (primitive torches) made by soaking dried reeds in melted tallow (a processed form of animal fat).

Of course, Egyptian rushlights did not have a wick like modern candles. It was probably the Ancient Romans who first created candles with wicks to light homes and churches at night.

Early candles were usually made with some form of animal fat. Unfortunately, these candles probably did not smell as nice as today’s candles do.

In fact, they might have had an odor like fried, greasy food. They also would have created a lot of smoke, which made them difficult to use effectively indoors.

Over time, other materials were used to make candles that would burn cleaner and produce less smoke.

In the Middle Ages, candle-makers discovered that beeswax (a substance produced by bees and used to make their honeycombs) made great candles. Unfortunately, beeswax candles were expensive, so only the wealthy could afford them.

In the 18th century, spermaceti wax (made from oil from sperm whales) was often used to make candles. The first candles that resembled modern-day candles were likely made with spermaceti wax.

Most candles today are made from paraffin. Paraffin is a waxy byproduct of petroleum refining, and it was first distilled in 1830. Paraffin revolutionized candle-making because it was inexpensive, burned cleanly and produced no odor.

The only drawback to paraffin was its low melting point. Eventually, candle-makers discovered that they could add stearic acid to paraffin to make candles firmer and melt more slowly.

Today, most candle manufacturers — known traditionally as “chandlers” — use modern manufacturing equipment, including molds, to mass-produce candles. The basic production method involves melting the solid fuel (paraffin) and pouring it into a mold until it cools.

Some artists, though, prefer to make candles the old-fashioned way by repeatedly dipping a wick into heated beeswax, paraffin or whatever waxy substance they wish to use. With repeated dippings, you can make a basic tapered candle.

Candle artisans often add dyes and scents to make a wide variety of custom-colored candles that smell great when they’re burned. You may not want to burn them, though!

Custom candles can often turn out too beautiful to burn. People who love such homemade candles may collect them as pieces of art.

 

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    • Hi, Emmy! Lilac is a GREAT scent for candles…smelling them always reminds us of springtime! Thanks so much for stopping by today’s Wonder and for letting us know you like candles! :-)

  1. We think candles are amazing in all different ways. Some are scented, all colors, and make the holidays bright! :)

    The video was very interesting because of how she made the candles so fancy! It must take a really long time.

    • Thank you for telling us what you thought about today’s Wonder, 5A in Gibbons! We agree…candles DO make the holidays bright! We really appreciate the awesome comments you always leave for us! :-)

  2. Interesting, how, over time, we made candles out of different materials. Also, I was just WONDERING about the replies you make. Do actual people write them? Or are they all made up from a computer?

    • No computer replies here, Raina! There are lots of really awesome people who live and work here in Wonderopolis, and we really appreciate all the great comments our Wonder Friends (like you!) leave for us. We like replying to each and every one! :-)

  3. What great information about wax and candles.
    It makes me thankful for electricity, and that we don’t have to make candles like people from pioneer times or roman times. I mean, think about it, what if you were in the middle of a great book and your candle went out! I’m wondering what the difference is between wax for crayons and the wax used for candles. Can you put a wick in a crayon and burn it on your birthday cake? It might smell funny though, because crayons have a distinct smell.

    • WOW! You really impressed us with your extra WONDERing about wax, candles and crayons, Caleb and Ms. Dahm! We think it would be neat to make candles out of bits and pieces of old crayons! We have heard of crafty Wonder Friends who got help from their parents (or teachers) to do just that! We think we might have to do some more WONDERing ourselves to find out how! :-)

    • You’re right, Billy Bob Joe! That’s a GREAT point! Lots of people use candles for decoration or to make their houses smell WONDERful, but we also need them for power outages! Thanks for adding something special to this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  4. I think that homemade candles are cool, because I love candles and in my house, I have candles on my entertainment center. And I just love looking at the candles when they’re lit.

    • Hi, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day® about candles! We appreciate your comment very much! :-)

  5. I love candles. I wish you could tell us what stores you would think are good to buy them at. My friend hates candles. SO WEIRD!

    • It’s OK if you like candles but your friend doesn’t, Wonder Friend! The world would be a lot less WONDERful if everyone liked the same things! Thanks so much for leaving us this SUPER comment today! :-)

  6. Great site. Happy to come across it. I love candles and make sure to have different types for special occasions. Sometimes I have a candle lit when I am alone meditating or listening to music or just relaxing . Candles are on top of my favorite gift list …but I never tried to make them..I think I might try with the wonderful information you provided..thanks a lot.

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Fatinah! We’re glad you found us! Thank you so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day® about candles! Let us know how your homemade candles turn out, OK? :-)

  7. It’s interesting how plain beeswax can become a beautiful candle (and about how candle materials changed over time!)!
    P.S. The video was awesome! ;)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about this Wonder of the Day®, Rahul! We appreciate hearing all the cool things you learned about candles! :-)

    • We’re glad you came back to check our answer to your question, Raina! Thanks for being such an AWESOME Wonder Friend! : -)

  8. Wow that video is cool! I knew they were made from wax, but that is all so now I know! Shout out to my school Bay Lane Middle school you guys rock especially Mrs. Stuckey’s class!

    • We want to give a shout out to YOU, Paige, for being so AWESOME! We’re sure Mrs. Stuckey and your classmates will appreciate your kind words, too! :-)

    • We thought that was a super interesting to learn about candles, too, Maeve! We’re glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® to leave us a comment…THANK YOU! :-)

  9. Wow! It’s amazing that so many people take up there time to make candles like that! I always get my parents candles for their birthdays or on Christmas normally! They are awesome gifts, especially the scented ones!

    • Candles really DO make great gifts, Kayla! Thanks so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • A great big hello to you from Wonderopolis, Phillip! Thanks for sharing your comment and enthusiasm about candles! We hope you have a WONDERful day filled with learning and fun! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you make candles?
  • What are candles made of?
  • When were candles invented?

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Try It Out

Ready to have some fun with candles? If you want to try making your own candles at home, ask an adult to take you to a craft store to purchase a candle-making kit you can try at home.

If you’d prefer to make some crafts with candles you already have, try some of these fun activities with an adult:

When you’re finished, email us a picture of what you made, or post a picture on Facebook. We can’t wait to see how creative you are with candles!

 

Still Wondering

Check out EDSITEment’s The Gift of Holiday Traditions: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas feature page to learn more about Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas.

 

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