For Your Consideration: Candles

for your consideration

Welcome to For Your Consideration, a new series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.


I grew up in a candle home. Is that a thing? Picture this: A house with so many candles that even when summer Virginia thunderstorms knocked out the power for everyone on our block, you couldn’t tell just by looking through the windows of our house because, within half an hour of the outage, my mom had assembled so many candles in so many rooms that we could even see better than we normally could with the lights on.

There were candlesticks and scented candles, but mostly there were tea lights, what seemed to me like hundreds of tea lights scattered throughout our house at all times. It was my sister’s and my job to light them before my mom’s various social events – book club, dinner parties, some group she was in called Soul Sisters that somehow, despite the name, was not gay. We’d remove the burned our tea lights from their votives – the wick, singed black, all that was left in the little circle of foil – and replace them with fresh discs. We were allowed to use butane lighters from a very young age.

I am here to tell you that bringing a candle to a dinner party instead of a bottle of wine is a perfectly reasonable choice. I am here to tell you that a candle, on any occasion, is not a lazy, impersonal gift. There are some beautiful candles out there and a million possibilities for where to put them and let them burn.

You don’t have to stick to the fancy candles. Fill your space with tea lights. They’re cheap, they’re simple, and you’d be surprised how many things you have lying around that can suddenly become a votive for a tea light — mugs, wine glasses, mason jars, a small dish. We have previously established in this series that killing houseplants is fine and expected, but maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to constantly have a bunch of dead plants reminding you of your failure to take care of something. Get a bunch of candles instead. If you get the lighting right, they look just as good on Instagram, I promise. They also, for some reason, similarly signal that you have your shit together even if you don’t.

This holiday season, light some candles, baby! Had a particularly stressful day at work? Light a candle. Having friends over for some wine and cheese? Light a candle. Too depressed to leave your room? Light a candle on your bedside table for the tiniest spark in the darkness. Celebrating? Light a candle. Someone cheated on you? Light — actually, don’t light a candle. Light their favorite t-shirt on fire, and then light a candle. Maybe one that they bought you or one that you bought together. Light it up and watch that sucker burn. Solid becomes liquid becomes gas. Candles are ephemeral, and this too shall pass.

Did you know you can also make candles? I have never tried it, but I hear it’s a thing! Doesn’t that sound like such a quaint and lovely hobby? Should I start making candles?

It sounds trite, but a candle can genuinely be anything. We light them when people die, and then later on, to remember that they’re gone. Candles can burn for grief or for romance or for relaxation or for lust. The cliché of a sexy candle-lit bedroom? I can verify that it is indeed incredibly sexy. Have you ever smelled the scent of a particular candle and become instantly horny? Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

My favorite candle smells like ginger, and yes, it stresses me the fuck out to think about the fact that it will one day be gone. So, it’s become my special occasion candle. It’s been a while since I last lit it.

Fill your space with candles, because they’re pretty. Fill your space with candles, because they’re temporary. Fill your space with candles, because sometimes you just need to watch something burn until it dissipates.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 176 articles for us.

39 Comments

  1. I bought a couple of candles from Ikea a couple of months ago that smell like raspberries. The smell is so strong that they stopped me dead in the middle of Ikea looking for what smelled so good.

    I made some beeswax and dip candles when I was in elementary school, it was pretty fun.

  2. i love candles and own too many of them. favorites include a vetiver, smoke & spruce candle called “the witches” from hauswitch/soy much brighter, a bookish “sunnydale library” candle from firefly candle company, and a soothing, salty “waves” candle from keap.

  3. My favourite candles are Pintail’s Fig and Wild Pear and a Yankee Candle Vanilla Lime. The Yankee Candle was supposed to be a present for a friend but I loved it so much I ended up keeping it for myself and buying her a different one.

    Making candles is good fun and you can use food colouring with gel was if you want to add swirly colours cheaply. I need to give that a go again.

  4. I read this headline and immediately lit the two candles on the table next to me, so thank you for that reminder! My current fave is PF Candle Co’s Amber & Moss scent, as well as the plain unscented pillar candles you can currently get from Trader Joe’s.

  5. I love candles! My ideal decorating situation includes a million tealights lit all over, but I am also mildly afraid of burning down my apartment. So.

    For scented candles, I love evergreen this time of year, makes up for the fact that my Christmas tree is fake.

  6. I thought I was doing a great, beautiful, put-together adult thing when I woke up early to clean last week and lit a few candles to make the whole experience more pleasing, but I left the room for TWO SECONDS and suddenly everything was filled with smoke and the alarms were going off and my housemates shamed me. I am no longer allowed to candle.

    What’s the alternative if you don’t want to kill things and you also don’t want to kill yourself and your housemates but you do want pretty, temporary charm in your life?

  7. I love candles too. I like the soft, flickering light, and fire is a very primal draw to humankind. I don’t have an favorites yet, but am on the lookout for small makers to support. I have low vision, but can successfully light candles without burning anything down! 🙂 I like to use long kitchen matches. First, I feel where the wick is, and how tall it is. Then I strike the match, and can usually touch it to the wick and blow out the match before it burns anywhere near my fingers. Then, I run the match under water to make sure it’s really, REALLY OUT before tossing it away. Jar candles are my favorite, but I also like large wide ones; just about anything but those tall, skinny ones that just look like they’d tip over if you look at ’em wrong! For those who may be sensitive to scents, or afraid of fire, those LED candles might be the way to go. Personally, I like real fire, but that’s just me!

  8. When I was a kid I constantly begged to use candles by my bed and my parents wouldn’t let me (WEIRD) and now I’m an adult and have candles everywhere and often light all of them all at once and it’s one of the best things about growing up. Very here for all candle suggestions, and not considered tea lights in a serious way, clearly need to start.

  9. I LOVE CANDLES

    i have so many candles
    sometimes i am like, why doesn’t everyone have candles??? what’s going on
    this goes along with my general obsession with everything smelling good all the time

    also i have made candles, thank you for asking
    there was a candle store in Kerrytown when i was a kid where you could make them!

  10. I think candle house and not candle house is a very real thing, because I come from a not candle house, and it took me a long time to come around to understanding the appeal. Now I get it and love them! I have a magnolia candle that is soo good but I can’t find it at the store I got it from anymore so I’m using it sparingly. I also love woodwick candles cause they smell amazing and sound amazing!

  11. I love candles, my favorite are the cinammon scented ones. I’m so broke right now that I can’t afford any nice ones so whenever Michael’s has a sale and their candles are $2 I stock up. I also buy those flameless tea lights and put in candle holders (I get mine at Dollar Tree) just to make the house look a little nicer.

  12. i LOVE candles. i often combine with string lights and OH BOY, my apartment is peak cozy when i double it up.
    in terms of preferences, i don’t love very sweet smells (they give me headaches) so i get a lot of wood-based candles. AND last week i discovered that there is literally a woman who sells candles on the corner outside of a restaurant a block from me **every week**, so obvs i bought a new candle. the last one i bought was real big – amber & cedar wood. at first i was considering if i should start making my own candles, bc i feel like i’m picky about smells, but her selection is SO goood. so i’ll just support a local business instead. <3

  13. The names of these candle scents alone have my olfactory nerves a-twitch with envy, but I have set one too many potholders/spatulas/a butternut squash aflame, and cannot be trusted with anything more volatile than my basic kitchenware. I am the owner of one (1) scented candle, gifted to me over a decade ago, which lives nested in a ziplock bag on my bookcase, unburnt. If I pretend to be searching for volumes 1-3 of Time and Narrative, I can sometimes catch a tantalizing hint of something I think is rosewood. It was a good gift.

  14. Trader Joe’s has different scented candles each season. This summer, they had a grapefruit candle that smelled so tart and bright. This fall, they carried honeycrisp apple (what’s up MN?!) and vanilla pumpkin candles. And now they have cedar balsam and gingerbread! I really don’t know what my life would be without TJ’s. They make my life taste and smell amazing for a weirdly reasonable price.

  15. surprised there is no mention of the classic New Age Gay™ companion to candles (especially tealight ones) AKA the essential oil burner!!!!!

    long may its lavender fumes and accidental spillage onto my rental-property-carpet reign!

  16. I read this post yesterday and went hm, not really a candle person. Especially as when I lived in Bristol, a neighbour started a fire with a candle when I lived in a bedsit with a shared bathroom. Made me realise how lucky I was to have a decent landlord and smoke alarms because otherwise, I would have just died in my sleep from smoke inhalation without knowing about it.

    (I was the kid who hated Chemistry because they were terrified of Bunsen burners)

    *But* a co-worker was selling stuff left over from her daughter’s Christmas fayre, including home made candles and it’s for Step Up To Cancer, so a good cause and they were a reasonable price, so I now own a vanilla candle. Which I can’t light because I don’t have any matches :face palm:

    All Autostraddle’s fault when I burn the place down!

  17. I love making candles! It’s super easy, pretty cheap, and make amazing gifts.

    Right now I’m using a lot of blue spruce, cinnamon chai, and Black Sea (hints of citrus, sea salt, Amber, and vanilla).

  18. Feel this piece in my soul Kayla.
    I’m a candle person who grew up in a non-candle home. At some point during my teen years my mother tried to satiate my desire for fire with electric fake candles and some some stupid ass thing that melted wax pellets.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.