I really like candles. When everyone was getting into houseplants or Peloton or just trying not to die at the start of the pandemic, I was getting into candles. I love a non-scented pillar prayer candle. I love a scented small-batch candle. A magnum 3-wick from Costco? I’ll burn that shit too.
Candles are one of those subjects that seems simple until you scratch the surface, at which point you realize there’s an unbelievable amount of necessary expertise. A few things I wish I knew when I first started buying candles: Paraffin candles tend to have better “scent throw,” aka how far a smell travels, than soy candles, but there are so many kinds of wax for a candle. I don’t particularly care about the wax makeup, but both the wax and fragrance burning may trigger your allergies. While we’re on the topic of health, I want you to know there’s little evidence to suggest “clean” candles are better for you, and don’t worry about lead wicks. They’ve been banned for nearly 20 years.
When picking your candle, the scent combinations can be overwhelming. “Top notes” are the first thing you’ll smell (usually a citrus or light floral) but they quickly fade while burning. The “middle notes” are the bridge of a candle, those prominent scents like “bright florals, gourmands, fruits, or lighter woods.” The “base notes” are the candle’s anchor (think bold scents like spices, musks, vanilla, or amber) and typically linger even after you’ve blown out the candle.
Here are my favorite candles and candle-adjacent gifts that I hope bring some beautiful scents into your home this season. Happy burning!
Mala Cereal $29
This is my absolute favorite candle to recommend. The Mala Cereal candle is classified as a fruit candle with “light lemon, citrus and berries,” which is fine. Except this candle doesn’t smell like fruit. It smells like a bowl of Fruit Loops. And. It. Is. Heaven. Plus, the packaging is a cute little paint can that will look perfect with just a bow on top! Minimal effort for you, maximum scent throw for your recipient.
I was introduced to this brand when my girlfriend bought its limited-edition Ida B. Wells candle. The scent throw was incredible, so we invested in Bright Black’s Diaspora Discovery Set to figure out what candle we wanted next. This is mad cheap because the set is tea lights (0.5oz wax), but through it, we discovered (heh) Salvador. This scent honors Salvador da Bahia, Brazil with a combination of acai palm and sea salt. The scent combo is something I would have never thought to pick up in-store, and that’s what I love about sets like this one. These are always great additions to a gift that isn’t quite enough, or a stocking stuffer for that one family member who is so chic you are intimidated to buy for.
LES is my favorite of Boy Smells’ core scents, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them. It starts with smells of cardamom and bergamot before resting in middle notes of peach blossom, peony, and rose with bottom notes of cedarwood and jasmine rice. It manages to be sweet and floral while also reminding me of the cedar trunks my mom kept. I love burning it on nights made especially dark by a new moon. You could buy the regular 8.5oz or splurge for the 27oz 3-wick magnum candle this holiday season; I personally love getting a regular and a little extra this time of year! Think of it as one to keep and one to give away. And if my description of LES doesn’t do it for you, other Jezebel writers are partial to Ash because it literally smells like a campfire.
My local nursery has a little house on its property where they sell all the non-plant trinkets. That’s where I found Archipelago’s Havana, with notes of bergamot, tobacco flower, and ylang-ylang. I tried to savor this candle, burning it only on special occasions until the pandemic made surviving each workday feel like a reason to celebrate. It’s on my personal Christmas list, but the reason I like Archipelago as a gift is that it comes from the Excursions collection. Have you had to keep putting off that honeymoon to Santorini? Maybe the oysters and soul food of Charleston are calling to you? This collection is great for the traveler within or on your list.
This candle is the gift to everyone with pet odors. It’s a chic candle that helps eliminate pet smells in your house. Just make sure you’re close enough that they won’t be completely offended. (If you’re not interested in pet odor neutralization, Sand + Fog candles smell great too.)
This candle is perfect for the moment that you need to trick your brain into thinking you already cleaned the house. It’s that perfect “I want my apartment to smell citrus-y clean without it being only lemon or Pine-Sol” tool. Plus, the Relish Collection comes in such cute jars, which are made to look like customized Mason jars. These would be a hit at a chic wine & cheese white elephant gathering, even if you show up wearing the completely wrong look.
Hearth & Hand by Magnolia candles $5.99-$34.99
The Gaines may have done obscene things to Waco’s real estate market, but their development team sure can make an affordable candle. Most of the scents have decent scent throw, especially for a mass-market candle. But when you’re picking one of these as a gift for yourself or someone else, Hearth & Hand should be judged by the vessel first, scent second. There are beautiful pottery vessels as well as rustic metal containers, giving you lots of options depending on the tastes of the person you’re buying for.
Any ol’ bitch can tell you to treat yourself to a diptyque Baies candle. It’s good! But when it comes to luxury candle buying, the brand is played out, no matter how good the empty vessels look holding your makeup brushes. It’s time to explore a bit more in the luxury space. Let me introduce your Byredo’s Loose Lips candle. The base notes are so surprising and fun—“a touch of Morello cherry, iris root and rice powder”—to smell like a velvety kiss.
Yes, I am a sucker for collaborations, so when this Beekman 1802/Schitt’s Creek Rose Apothecary collab came across my Instagram feed, I was intrigued. Eventually, there was a sale and a particularly profitable month for me that led to me buying a lot of Beekman 1802 Rose Apothecary products. And the candle is a standout. The scent is almost overwhelming while still in its box, but when lit, the scent mellows out and fills even my large dining and living rooms. Plus, if you’re not into TV show collabs (I get it), Beekman 1802 has a lot of different candle options; I’m most intrigued by Snow Forest.
A Candle Making Kit $39.96
The next step for a candle lover is the art of making your own candles. It lets the candle lover (you) appreciate the work that goes into boutique scene combinations and how goddamn hard it is to hand pour a candle without the right equipment. It’s a great way to spend a winter afternoon. Just don’t get cutesy like I did by adding dried flower petals; it did turn into a bigger fire hazard.
One of those inside jokes that got my household through the worst of late 2020 was me quietly saying “Candle maintenance is very important” as I trimmed my candle wicks and wiped off the soot and fixed tunneling. It became a mantra I said to myself every time I prepped my expensive-ass candles to be used. I couldn’t believe I spent this much money on candles so I needed to use them correctly. Hence, candle maintenance sets are a great gift for your candle-loving friend or self. I picked the Boy Smells one because it’s complete—wick trimmer, snuffer, wick dipper, and tray—and beautiful. It’s true, you could probably find the color of your choice on Amazon, but I love the matte black of BS. Plus, I’ve found that the length of the trimmer’s cutting edge is great for most wood wick candles.