Things of Latvia: Candles

It is a small step from being a sun worshipper to being a fire worshipper, which may go some way to explaining the popularity of candles (sveces) in Latvia. In summer there is the sun. In winter there is no sun capable of burning you very severely, so we must rely on candles.

I am willing to bet that there is more shelf-space per person in Latvia dedicated to candles than anywhere else. Go into the tiniest village store and there will be a decent selection of around a dozen from which to choose. Enter a large supermarket and there will be an entire aisle - possibly several - of multicolored fire promises stretching towards infinity like the trippy stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Florists also sell candles. Gas stations also sell candles. Furniture stores sell candles. I'm fairly sure somewhere in Latvia there is an insurance brokerage that sells candles.

It is pleasurable, when one is at a loose end, to spend time in the candle zone. All the different shapes and sizes, the smells, the colors, the textures, are a feast for the senses, particularly during the grey, dark days of winter. For a few dull copper coins you can ignite a fragment of sun.

A candle is a low-cost item for which multiple justifications can be found. These range from candles to attract (romantic dinner), candles to repel (mosquitoes), candles conjectural (bad weather expected, risk of power cuts), candles aesthetical (you read an interior decoration magazine which featured a candle-festooned room), candles medicinal (cure your chronic infection by inhaling beeswax), or simply a nagging feeling one does not have enough candles, which is similar to the feeling one does not have enough money. If Warren Buffett was Latvian and owned the world's largest candle factory, he would still buy candles every time he went for a carton of milk. 

But cemetery candles are the most fun. They unite the realms of the living and the dead.

What sort of candle would be appropriate when we revisit the grave of dear Uncle Herberts? We started off in the immediate aftermath of his demise with an expensive, small candle in a large glass jar shaped like a lantern. Classic. That was when we were still hoping to be named in his will.


Next time we visited, we put a different, larger but cheaper candle in the same glass jar, but something was wrong, the wind kept blowing it out. These candle manufacturers are clever. It is difficult to customize your tribute to the dear departed. 

Then winter came and when we returned in the Spring, the jar was cracked, so we hid it behind his gravestone just in case it might come in useful at some point in the future.

The last time we went to the cemetery, we took a thick candle in a plastic case that was a bit cheaper but burned longer. That way, when all the other relatives made their annual pilgrimage to Uncle Herberts' grave on his birthday they would know we had already been, even though we were not mentioned in his will. We drove past the cemetery and it was still burning the next day, which felt like Uncle Herberts was giving us a nod of approval. He probably regrets not including us in his will. 

And now, a couple of years later, there is a very special offer on these chunky cemetery candles. If we buy now, we can take it next time we visit Uncle Herberts and save money into the bargain. It says on the label you get 72 hours of burn time for one euro and ninety-nine cents. That's a lot of posthumous bang for your buck.

There is just one problem. Old Uncle Herberts was quite the nationalist and always told us to buy Latvian. He was furious that time when he was given Lithuanian cheese at Midsummer. These candles on special offer are made in Poland. Do you think he would be offended while he Rests In Peace?

Let's compromise. The 36 hour Polish candles are also on special offer, for ninety-nine cents. We can buy two, give one to Uncle Herberts and the other to Aunt Agnese. She's in the same cemetery, just around the corner from him. It will double - what exactly? Something.

They did not get on in life, old Uncle Herberts and dear Aunt Agnese, particularly after the cheese incident. It will be fun to see whose candle lasts longer. He can't complain. He should be grateful. Plus we will save one cent. Every cent counts when you have not been included in someone's will.


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