You find yourself in a thrift store and while looking through the shelves of trash and treasures, you spot a strange candle in a twisted metal holder. Curious, you ask the woman who furnishes the booth what is so special about this candle. She winks at you.
“That’s a Courting Candle, hun!” She says. “The father of a daughter in question would give this candle to her suitor to act as a subtle timer. Once the candle burned to the metal, the date was over.”
“How quaint,” you say aloud, but can’t help but wonder: was that really a thing? Or just a fun story?
In this case, it’s both! Let’s look at the history of this “tradition.”
In a 1998 article, Chicago Tribune wrote a more extensive article positing a theory on how the courting candle may have come into being.
They wrote that the candles in the spiral holders were more than likely created by Germans and brought to the United States with the Pennsylvania-Germans colonists.
The candleholders are usually made of wrought iron, with a drip pan and a lever to allow the candle to be raised and lowered to make the most of the candle.
See, during this time, candles were made with deer or beef tallow (fat) or they used fat lamps and skipped the candles altogether.
Tallow candles were too soft to stand on their own, hence the wrought iron support.
Honey bees, like we know in the modern day, were actually not native to North America! They were introduced in the 1600s by European colonists for their honey production. Since beeswax was rare it was too expensive for commoners to use in everyday life.
As time went on, the ability to raise or lower the candle was seen as a potential timekeeper.
A father could leave the candle in a room where his daughter and her potential suitor as a subtle way to show how much time is left in the date.
If he didn’t like the man, he could raise the candle to make the date short or lower it to make it last longer if he liked the man in question.
The most interesting point about the courting candle is the fact that more reproductions of these candles exist than actual candles.
One recreation is the “Candle by the Hour”, a popular candle that burns about 20 minutes per inch. You can feed 1 to 3 inches through the clamp to control the time.
Even if they’re usually found as decorative pieces, the romantic myth of the courting candle is a nice tradition that continues to thrive to this day due to high demand for these recreations.