The Scandinavian custom of burning candles during the winter months is deeply rooted in the region’s cultural and historical traditions. This practice is particularly prominent in countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where winters can be long, dark, and cold. The tradition of using candles serves both practical and cultural purposes.
Cultural Tradition: Scandinavians have a long history of relying on candlelight during the winter. Before the advent of electricity, candles were a primary source of light in homes. Even with modern lighting, the cultural attachment to candles persists, and people often use them to maintain a connection to their cultural heritage.
Combating Darkness: In Scandinavia, winter days are often very short, with limited daylight hours. For comparison, Oslo, Norway experiences approximately 6 hours of daylight on December 21st (the Winter Solstice). That compares to 9 hours 15 minutes of daylight in New York City; 8 hours, 15 minutes in Paris, France; 9 hours, 45 minutes in Buenos Aires; and 11 hours, 30 minutes in Mexico City, Mexico. Burning candles all day helps combat the pervasive darkness, providing a soft and comforting light. This not only makes indoor spaces more inviting but also contributes to a sense of well-being during the long, dark evenings.
Decoration and Tradition: Scandinavians often use candles as a form of decoration, especially during the winter holidays. Candles are placed in windows, on tables, and in various fixtures to add a festive and warm touch to homes. Advent candles, which are often lit during the weeks leading up to Christmas, are a specific tradition in many Scandinavian households.
Relaxation and Mindfulness: The act of lighting candles and basking in their glow can have a calming and meditative effect. It encourages people to slow down, be present in the moment, and appreciate the simple pleasures of life.
Hygge (Denmark) / Myse (Norway): Pronounced (approximately) “hoo-gah”, hygge encompasses a feeling of coziness, contentment, and overall well-being. The word originates from the 16th century Norwegian term “hugga,” meaning “to comfort” or “to console.”
“Hygge” and the Norwegian equivalent, “myse,” emphasize the importance of creating a cozy and comfortable atmosphere, especially during the dark and cold winter months. Burning candles is a key element of achieving this cozy ambiance. It involves not just the physical warmth of the candles but also the warm and inviting atmosphere they create.
Many Scandinavian homes keep candles burning throughout the day, especially during the winter months. It is not uncommon for people to have candles burning on windowsills, tables, and various fixtures throughout their homes. Some examples:
Candlelit Dinners: Scandinavians often incorporate candles into their evening meals, creating an intimate and relaxed atmosphere.
Reading Nooks and Cozy Corners: Dedicated spaces for relaxation are set up with comfortable seating, blankets, and, of course, candles.
Winter Gatherings: Candles play a key role in social gatherings during the winter months, whether it’s a family dinner or a casual get-together with friends. The arrangement of candles in communal spaces fosters a sense of togetherness.
Bathtime Rituals: Candles are used to enhance the hygge experience during bath rituals, taking advantage of the calming effect of candlelight during moments of self-care.
During the holiday season, in particular, the use of candles becomes even more prevalent. Advent candles, as mentioned earlier, are lit during the weeks leading up to Christmas, contributing to the festive and festive atmosphere in homes.
Incorporate hygge principles, including candle usage, into your own life for a sense of comfort and well-being. In the glow of candles, may you find your own cozy refuge, even in the darkest and coldest of nights.