One of the things that I have to thank my grandmother for is my lifelong love of candles. Now, to anyone who actually knew Gran, that is going to seem like an odd statement, because the only time that you ever saw a candle in her house was atop a birthday cake.
It all began around this time of year in 1981. Like most children, we loved the build up to Christmas and this was only enhanced by having a fresh Advent calendar to open each year.
We always had one each and, unlike some children I knew, my parents didn’t believe in recycling the same one year on year and simply Sellotaping the doors shut again.
Somehow, the tradition grew up that Gran would buy the calendars each year. One life-altering year, she decided that I was too old for a calendar and bought me an Advent Candle instead.
For those who have not come across one of these, the concept is very simple. The candle has the numbers 1-24 marked down it and you burn enough of the candle each day to melt that day’s number without removing the following day’s. Eventually, you are left with a small, thick, stub of candle to burn down on Christmas Eve.
Just how long the candle burnt for each night was of course determined by how thick it was in the first place, but I grew to love those 15-20 minutes of flickering light. I would set the candle next to me as I was doing my homework, or on the windowsill if I was listening to music and/or reading.
There was always a degree of tension accompanying this. Even though it would not have mattered to anyone, it was imperative that the candle didn’t burn past the next day. And there was the bigger fear – massive parental disapproval if the candle was left to burn unattended or, worse, fall into the hands of a much younger brother.
And thus began my love afair with candlelight. At university I would often work by it, until my friend Chris took to bursting in from his room next door and telling me that it would ruin my eyesight. Normally, wild horses won’t drag me into a church – especially the one in our village after they messed up William’s christening – but show me a candlelit carol service and I’ll at least think about going in. Is it any wonder that one of my favourite memories of the years that I spent with Helen is the time that she almost set fire to the living room during a power cut (she was absentmindedly flicking bits of dried flower at a three-wicked candle)?
Tonight, I shall be burning the number ‘2’ from this year’s Advent candle. It means that Christmas is one step closer, but more importantly that one of my favourite traditions endures.