I simply love the soft beauty of lit candles, (is there anyone who doesn't?) Brass candlesticks, sterling and pewter..I love them all and have a fairly large collection of them scattered around my home and on my dinner table ! We always ate by candlelight when I was growing up, indeed as far as my mother was concerned there was no other way. Dining by candlelight softens the mood, makes everything look even lovelier, slows down the world and smooths over the ragged edges of the day.
Several years ago, I got into a conversation with a friend who was asking about the etiquette of candle wicks, specifically whether they should be blackened before the guests arrive or not. She was surprised to learn that my mother was very strict about this. It was also the same rule that I learned at "finishing school" (Can you believe they called it that?) ; that you never were supposed to have your home decorated with unburnt candles or your table set with candles that hadn't been already blackened. My mother used to go around putting out new candles, lighting them for a few minutes and then snuffing out the wick. I remembered that when we'd give etiquette and entertaining talks people would ask her why this was so and that her answer had everything to do with being gracious and making others feel comfortable in her home. She had been raised by a very patrician mother who believed that a display of unlit candles was an ostentatious show of wealth. Mom also felt that unlit candles were very cold and just a bit too casual. After all, what else would you expect from a woman whose mantra was "make everyday a day for candles and wine!"
It's an old fashioned rule perhaps, and one that could be construed perhaps as silly, but I think that it's a good one just the same. Etiquette really has everything to do with making your guests feel comfortable, nothing else. I tend to feel that the world's become a little too uncivilized these days and we could all benefit quite a bit from applying these lessons from the past . I was very happy to find this article from The Charleston South Carolina School of Protocol and Etiquette that detailed my mothers rule of thumb. These days, anything that can make us all feel comfortable sitting down and breaking bread together in a civilized way is just fine with me.
From The Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette:
"Have you ever heard people say, “you should burn the wicks on new candles when you put them on display”…do you know why?
As we all know, there was a time when people did not have electricity and everyone used candles to light their homes. Then with the invention of the light bulb, the people that had money and could afford electric power to light their homes, no longer used candles.
It has been said however, in order not to embarrass those who could not afford electricity; it was considered a polite gesture to burn the wicks of the candles on display so it was not known who had electricity…..and who did not.
Candle etiquette sheds a little light on the subject, by teaching us once again, the most important rule of etiquette…letting people save face and not embarrassing anyone."
My mother would definitely approve!