The January light; the light of winter has a bleak beauty to it. I am talking about those monochrome days when the clouds seem to press heavily upon us and the often bitter wind is ready to chip away at any unprotected skin.
Monet captures this light so perfectly in many of his paintings but particularly in Ice Floes on the Seine.
As we in the Northern hemisphere are in the grip of winter, light festivals are a wonderful way to hold back the long, dark nights and remind ourselves that brighter days are coming soon. They are the modern equivalent of a tradition that started with the camp fire and continued with the candle in the window either to light the way home for a loved one or simply to hold the darkness at bay.
From Gas lamps to electric lights of all descriptions, the evolution of light has continued. Even in our modern world, light still represents warmth and safety even if only by association. We still feel a frisson of nervousness when confronted with an empty road in the depths of night with no street lamps to guide our way. This despite the fact that unlike our ancestors we know that the darkness is generally not populated with wild animals capable of tearing us limb from limb or creatures from the underworld intent on doing us harm. Our logical twenty first century brains reassure us but our ancient DNA still recoils from the unknown and the unseen.
The candle makers of the early 1800s may have lamented the first gas lamps to light Pall Mall but they had no need to fear. Candles have continued to be used in most modern households. We all keep a few spares in case there is a power cut and of course Christmas is a bumper time for candle manufacturers.
But did you know, according to statistics from the National Candle Association in the US, that retail sales of candles there amount to $2billion and that’s without candle accessories. Interestingly, 65% of candle sales occur outside of the Christmas period and 42% of candles are burned in the living room. In surveys, nine out of ten candle users say they use candles to make a room feel comfortable and cosy.
It would seem that even though most of us can turn on a light by flicking a switch we still prefer the softer glow of candlelight. Could it be that even though our electric lights can banish practically all the shadows from the room, now that we can control them, we like to invite the shadows in whilst focusing on the reassuring flicker of a candle’s flame?