Candlelight: Take That, Creeping Ennui!

Light a Candle. 

That’s it. 

A candle, a match, and you’re done. 

Oh, you can get more into it, and some folks really do. They have special terminology, and scent notes, and special snuffers, and wick trimmers, and all that stuff.

Good for them. I absolutely appreciate the joys of nerding out over things that require a bunch of paraphernalia. All my life is a balance between intense thriftiness and a red hot desire for paraphernalia. 

But you don’t need more than a candle and a way to light it, if your main goal is cheer. 

What Kind of Candle?

Any kind!

Fancy candles are not required, but I’m not going to shame you if you want one. I can’t personally manage spending significant money on candles, but that is my hangup, not yours. If you want fancy $80 candles from France, and you will enjoy the heck out of them, more power to you, I say. 

I, on the other hand, have been working my way through the same $3 bag of tea lights from Ikea since 2007. 

A tealight burns in a small striped glass holder, shining in the dark.
I don’t know where we got this, but I like it.
(If it was from you, I apologize.)

That’s not the whole truth. I also have a stash of Paddywax’s Library collection travel candles. They are small, they were very much on sale, and I wanted to know what a Steinbeck candle smelled like, okay? (Answer: More amber, less dust and despair than expected). 

And then there was a brief period where anytime I encountered a candle that was 1.) under $5, 2.) in a pretty glass container, and 3.) claimed to smell like a campfire, I bought it. 

And also, I am a Lady, so that means that I acquire random candles in gift exchanges, along with hand lotion and bath beads. And my mom sent me a care package of beeswax votives this fall. And…

I don’t need anymore candles, is what I’m saying. I’m good. 

But in these dark days, the type of candle is really immaterial. I’m willing to bet you could light one of those candles for sticking on birthday cakes, and feel the same amount of better as you do with something more sophisticated.

What Are You Waiting For?

Many people have candles but never burn them. They fall into that specific kind of hoarding: saving for a special occasion. This is usually a mistake, because a special enough occasion doesn’t come, and then we end up with a bunch of stuff we never use, filling our drawers and cabinets until the stuff is no longer good or we are…dead.

I am firmly in the camp of using your good things instead of letting them collect dust, but honestly, it’s not because I’m particularly elegant. It’s because I’ve missed out on joy via this “saving” behavior.

I should have eaten the good chocolate before it went bad, worn the dress to pieces while it still fit right, burned the candle before it melted in the bottom of the box. No more waiting, get the joy now. (There will be other joys in the future, we have to believe. I suspect that fear that there won’t be plays a big part in the saving stuff, but that’s getting a little much for a post about lighting candles.)

Getting through 2020 is enough of a special occasion, I say. Burn the candle and maybe start wearing all your favorite jewelry, too.

Clearly Not a “Candle Person” Tips For Candle Burning

A small candle burns on a metal candle holder on a wall. The candleholder is shaped like a branch with leaves.
Is this candle too small for this holder? Who’s to say?
  • You know how you light a candle, and it burns down into a crater, leaving you with a weird shell of wax on the edges? You can prevent this by burning 1 hour per inch of the candle’s diameter, the first time you light it.
  • If you’re like me, and have already tunneled your candles because you didn’t know that first thing, you can fix it by making a little collar of aluminum foil around the outside, sticking up over the edge (like a collar around a souffle, she said, relatable) the next time you burn it. It will melt evenly, and sort of reset itself.
  • Wax stuck in the bottom of your candle holder? Two options: freezing or heating. Freeze the whole thing, and it should pop out pretty well. Or, if your candle holder is wax or metal, carefully pour hot water over it to soften, then it will pop/scrape out quite easily. My favorite tool for this is a butter knife.
  • Right after sunset is prime candle-lighting time. Instead of thinking, “Dammit, it’s so dark already!” you can think, “Oooh, yes, candle time!”


One of the nice things about candles is that while they are already pretty, you can also put them inside other pretty things. 

Thrift stores are a great source both of actual candleholders and random glass containers that will work fine (I like juice glasses), but I’m not doing any thrift shopping at the moment. Recycled glass jars, an old plate, a plain old piece of aluminum foil, these can all do the job.

Of course, there are also very nice options for displaying and containing your candles. My pal Halie makes some beauties. I love the ones that cast shadows. 

Hand-painted by a Chicago artist who is also a fantastic person, casting multi-colored shadows. Really, what more could you ask for?

Set the Night on Fire

So here’s the first of our cozy challenges: This week, as the days get shorter and shorter, light a candle round about sunset time, and see if it makes you feel any brighter. (Maybe even take a picture and tag me on Instagram or use #AggressiveCoziness to add to the cozy collection?)

Aggressively Cozy: How to Snuggle In and Make the Dark Days Bright

Time to Get Cozy

I live on the Eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, and this time of year, that means one thing:

Darkness. Earlier and earlier.

In a year that has already seen its share of metaphorical darkness, this season feels fraught. We’ve wrapped up our quiet Thanksgivings, and now are looking at the prospect of lonely winter holidays. The sun sets at 4pm now, and it’s all, just…a lot to take. (Though, and I cannot overemphasize this, so much better than a lot of alternatives.)

What Could Make Winter Better?

A worn holiday card, probably from the early-to-mid 20th century, depicting a stylized cozy house in a grove of trees on a snowy day. It reads "Greetings."

Winter is a complicated business for midwesterners, I think. On the one hand, we’re proud of our hardiness, snow is pretty, and there’s something impressive about just how cold it can get and how much snow can fall. On the other, no one I know really gets excited about icy roads, shoveling walks, and the aforementioned 4pm sunset. And of course, many of us are physically affected by the loss of light, and seasonal depression is a very real thing. 

I’ve been on a quest the past few years to become a person who likes winter, and it has mostly worked. My prime strategy is to really dig into all the good things about winter. The best thing about winter, I have concluded, is coziness. 


Despite every lifestyle brand in America trying to commodify the Scandanavian concept of hygge a few years ago, coziness is not something that can be bought. You can buy things that aid in creating coziness, of course, but coziness is really more about intent.

Especially relevant this year, coziness doesn’t require additional people–it’s entirely possible to be very cozy alone. Winter is the coziest season, and that, for me, has become reason enough to like it. 

Candlelight, and soft socks, and hot drinks, and good books are how people have been getting through the dark season since time immemorial. As we approach the Winter Solistice, I’ll be featuring a bunch of my favorite old-fashioned cozy winter activities, along with some recipes and projects. 

The Very Cozy Details

These projects will be:

  • Cheap or free
  • Social distancing friendly
  • Largely independent of modern technology (with a little wiggle room)
  • Not directly related to Christmas

I think it will be fun. That’s right. Winter fun, my friends, it’s a thing.

Hard truth: I don’t know if it’s going to work this year. I have been using a lot of my “it’s not cabin fever if you do it on purpose” strategies all year long, and it’s possible that I’ve worn them out. We’ll see. 

So join me on this quest. If it works, we’ll reach the Solstice in fairly okay spirits, with a few more cozy skills, and with greater cozy style, prepared for the rest of the winter, as we creep towards brighter days.

If it doesn’t, at least you still had some hot cocoa, right?