Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And You Thought YOUR First Date Was Bad... (Courting Candles)

Hello! Long time no see, I know! I was very busy over September and October with a variety of re-enactments, which I will hopefully be posting pictures of soon. In the meantime, I have a question for you. Did you ever wonder what dating was like in the 1700s? Do images of the father polishing his musket come to mind? Well, as you may have guessed, dating was VERY different in the 1700s. In fact, it wasn't called dating at all, but "courting." The process was also much different. Rather than arriving at your date's house, getting the "I'll kill you if you touch her" speech from good ol' Dad, and hitting the road, a much different scenario would await you.

You enter the house, and there's good ol' Dad, sitting in the parlor, waiting. Daughter Dearest, the twinkle in your eye, is also there, and she blushes when she sees you. Things are looking good, until Dad pulls out the Courting Candle. You groan inwardly, and watch as he twists the spike all the way down. The visit will be a very, very short one.

A courting what, you say? Observe:

(photo from Bird In Hand Iron, where you can purchase a courting candle for about $8)

Here's how it works: As you can see, the candle stick is made up of what looks like a very loose spring, standing on one end on a metal base (this one very charmingly in the shape of a heart). There is also a small wooden piece with a peg, on which the candle rests. This wooden piece allows the candle to be moved up or down in the holder, by using the peg to spin the candle upward or downward.

During the 1600s through the 1800s, a gentleman courting a man's daughter would arrive at the house of his beloved. He would then spend an evening with the daughter - and the father - in the sitting room or parlor. The father would have his trusty courting candle nearby, and could raise or lower it as desired. The higher the candle in the holder, the longer the suitor could stay, for when the flame of the candle reached the top of the holder, the "date" was officially over.

The father had a few helpful rules at his disposal. In addition to having the power to raise or lower the candle upon the suitor's arrival, he could also choose to snuff it out if he decided the suitor was being particularly unfavorable or forward! However, if he found himself wanting to let the two lovers extend their visit, he had the power to add another candle when the first ran out. Thus, a suitor's visit was highly determined by the father. It seems obvious now why a suitor would want the father to highly regard him!

One must wonder if the stereotype between father and suitor was born from the courtship candle days. Perhaps if more men today had to rely that deeply on a father's discernment, they would be more willing to help with the family work days!


  1. I like this idea! Haha. And I know most dads of today would be jealous of the fathers of the past ;) I never knew this was how a "courting candle" worked, so this was really interesting. Thanks Rach!

  2. My friend gave me one a few years ago, although it has never been put to use:)