What gift do you give to someone who you don’t know very well? Or know well enough to realise that there’s really nothing that they need? Or a person who you want to surprise with a present that looks considered but doesn’t cost you too much shoe leather to track down? In the past it would perhaps have been a box of chocolates or a nice bottle of wine. But nowadays? Well, it will turn out that the chocolates aren’t vegan while the recipient now is, or that they haven’t been drinking for a year since their “holiday rosé moment of shame”. So the safe default gift du jour is now a scented candle. Believe me, if in doubt, buy a candle.
As it happens, I fall into the “he’d love a scented-candle” category for a lot of people I know. There was a point earlier this year when I realised that there was more wax jammed in our cupboards than in the blocked ear of an under-the-weather elephant. I had to make a mental note to start firing up their wicks as soon as the evenings got even moderately dark. Either that or melt them all down and fashion a life-sized model of some popular culture hero that I could then donate to Madame Tussauds, which luckily happens to be a short skip from Monocle’s London HQ. I honestly had enough wax to make Adele both before and after the dramatic weight loss – although the two of her might end up stinking the place out in a swirl of cedarwood and jasmine.
How did candle domination come to pass? Well, according to the National Candle Association (NCA), the US organisation for all wick-dipping geniuses, “Both men and women consider candles to be an always-acceptable and highly appreciated gift for a wide variety of occasions.” And I agree with them. I am, you see, both receiver and giver of the candle.
While we are at this juncture, the people at the NCA also point out that the candle market in the US is worth $3.14bn (€2.5bn) a year, there are 400 candle-making companies in the US alone and the sector employs 7,000 people in America. There’s even a World Candle Month – inexplicably in bright, sunny September.
That’s a lot of candles. A lot of houses smelling like “a Bali beach at sunset”, “a pine forest dappled with sunshine” or “Napoleon’s socks”. Believe me, some of these candle-makers imagine themselves to be the Ferran Adriàs of scent and go all out for nasal impact. It makes you think that if all the lights went off in the US and Europe, everyone would be fine and dandy for illumination for some months. And can you imagine what the offices of the NCA look like? Lots of people hunched at desks lit only by candles. Well, I would be disappointed if that’s not the case; they need to be leading by example here.
With winter in full swing, I have finally been blazing my way through the candle mountain. One day the house smells of Alpine meadows, the next like “wet jumpers on radiators”. My home is a dizzying olfactory funhouse; a place where your nose twitches this way and that as you move from room to room trying to unmask the unusual odours – or is that really a wet jumper on a radiator?
But beyond the whiff, what catches you more is the pleasure that’s gained from seeing a flickering wick, a warm glow, a spot of alluring siren light in the corner of the room. It’s a bit of hope in a jar. It’s entrancing. The fact that its maker claims that the product conjures up the smell of Bismarck’s ashtray is neither here nor there; we are all moths to a flame’s attraction. And that’s why, in this cosy light, I know that one thing is true: if in doubt, give them a candle.