Special Occasion Candles

Sitting atop of an armoire in our living room is a set of decorative candles that were given to us as a gift, when we moved to Florida. That was about 15 years ago.

When we moved to Iowa, we brought it with us, and these candles remained purely ornamental, as I don’t recall lighting them for the past 10 years or so that we’ve been here in our home in Iowa.

Last night, we drove home in a torrential downpour of rain. It was raining so hard that the road visibility was reduced to a few meters, making the travel perilous. When we arrived home and got into our driveway, the automatic garage door would not open. After several attempts and failing to open the garage with the remote key, I finally went out of the car in the pouring rain, and got in the garage through a backdoor using a traditional key.

That was when I discovered why the garage door would not open. The electricity was out.

Power outage here in our area, or in all the US for that matter, is rare. Unlike during my younger days when I was still in Manila, where black-outs were as common as having dried fish for supper.

I’m not sure what caused the power outage. Maybe it was the heavy rains. Maybe a lightning hit one of the transformers. Maybe the strong wind knock off the power lines. Maybe a deranged cow wandered in the power station. Or maybe the Martians hijacked the power plant. Who knows?

But one thing for sure, there’s a lot of things you can’t do when the power is out. Can’t browse the internet in the computer. Can’t watch TV. We can’t even get in into our house!

As we enter our house, we fumbled to get flashlights. It was a good thing my son has a collection of small flashlights and so we have plenty to go around. He even put on a headlamp, as he excitedly move around like a miner in a cave.

It was dark, so we lit up some candles. We have a couple of aromatic candles that we use whenever we cook fish or other “stinky” Pinoy food to neutralize the smell (see previous post here). Yet the house was still dark, so I proceeded to light the decorative candles in our living room as well.


That’s when my wife told me that they were “special occasion” candles only.

Well, the power was out. It was dark. To me, that was a “special occasion.”IMG_5900

(*photos taken with an iPhone) 

Pinoy Candle Rituals

I came home the other day and smelled the scent of candles as I entered into our house. There were a couple of lighted candles in the kitchen, and another one in the living room.

I know my wife does not practice transcendental meditation, nor does she do incantation and magic spells under the flickering light of candles (at least not that I know of). And no, it’s not All Saint’s Day, and there are no troubled souls that we are lighting candles for. Maybe she’s creating an ambiance for a romantic evening, and we will have dinner by the candlelight. Naah!

As I sniffed further, the whiff of fried daing na bangus (marinated milkfish) gave it away. We are having fish tonight! That was what all these scented candles are for.

scented candles

Being away from the Philippines this long, made me more sensitive to the smell of fish. Or maybe I was just desensitized and grew immune to it back home, where the “aroma” of fish, including dried fish, is the norm in every home. But here in the US, we need to be considerate of our (non-Filipino) neighbors, especially if we live in an apartment complex or condominium. You can even be reported by your neighbors for stinking the whole place, when you cook fish.

We are lucky, my neighbors are a few paces away from us. But still, we don’t want to have the odor of fish linger for long inside the house, as we may have unexpected visitors. Plus, we don’t want the fishy scent cling to our clothes and jacket. You don’t want other people know what you have for lunch by the smell of your hair or your shirt!

When we are cooking fish, we open all the windows in the house to let fresh air in and stale air out. If we are frying dried fish, we even cook it outside in our deck. Maybe our neighbors wondered what the heck was that stench, or maybe they just thought that there was a runaway skunk, or a rotting animal in the nearby woods.

But during winter time, cooking fish can be a challenge. It’s icy cold to open the windows, and you don’t want to freeze to death to cook outside. But as true Pinoys, we can’t live without our daing and tuyo. And that’s what the candles are for. We hope that they will neutralize and absorb the smell of fish, and in addition they will fill the room with their sweet fragrance. May not take out the smell completely but at least that’s the idea.

tuyo at kamatis

Aside from eliminating odors, there are many uses of candles: from religious and non-religious rituals and meditation, to aromatherapy and decoration. I have been to many Filipino homes here in the US, and scented candles are very common item in their household. They are not necessarily found in the home altar (if they have one), but more so in the kitchen near the stove (the other altar). Of course, we have candles too in our home in Manila when I was growing up, but it was mainly used for brownouts.

We Filipinos may have many rituals, but one ritual in Filipino homes is lighting up the candles whenever we are cooking. Specially when we crave for daing, tuyo, tinapa, danggit, binagoongan, and buro.

So if you pass by and we have candles lighted inside our house, let us just say that we are meditating and communing to the spirits of the dried fish gods.