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candle

candle, cylinder of wax or tallow containing a wick, used for illumination or for ceremonial purposes. The evidence of ancient writings is not conclusive as to the history of the candle; words translated "candle" may have meant "torch" or "lamp," and the "candlestick" was probably a stand for one of these lights. The candle probably evolved from wood, rushes, or cords dipped in fat or pitch. Candles as well as lamps were used in Roman times; by the Middle Ages candles (tallow for the poor and wax for the wealthier) were quite common in Europe. Tallow, beeswax, and vegetable wax such as bayberry in the American colonies, candleberry in the East, and waxberry in South America were supplemented by spermaceti in the late 18th cent., by stearine c.1825, and by paraffin c.1850. Twisted strands for wicks were replaced (c.1825) by the plaited wick. Candles were commonly made by repeated dipping in melted tallow, by pouring tallow or wax into molds, or by pouring beeswax over the wicks. Most modern candles are machine-made by a molding process, although candle making as an art survives in industrialized countries. In literature, art, and religion the candle has had a wide range of symbolism; it commonly represents joy, reverence for the divine, and sacrifice (since the candle spends itself).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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