People always talk about a “family dinner”; how important it is to sit together and eat and talk. However, our dinner pretty much looked like utter chaos. One of us on the computer or reading the paper. Kids eating at the little table or already ate because they won’t eat what we eat, spills, crying for something else, refusing to eat, running away, time outs, me getting up and down and up and down or not even eating because I can’t sit for more than 2 mins, my husband and I arguing and mess all over the table. Anyway, it was far from a nice family dinner. And a candle changed all that.
Waldorf pedagogy talks about the importance of candles. Candles play an important part in many religions. At one time fire was the only way of having light after the sun had gone down. A candle represented so many things – light, safety, warmth, family. What person hasn’t enjoyed staring into a flame at some point, seeing the magic of the dancing light. For us the glow of the Chanukah candles is so warming and beautiful. But a candle can do more than that. Children don’t have a grasp on time. Lighting a candle is a physical way to divide or mark time. Since we don’t use candles for light now, they are special, lighting a candle is a significant action that gives importance to something. Also because candles can be dangerous, they have a mystery about them and inspire awe in children.
“You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” talks about lighting a candle at dinnertime. At first I balked – candles are dangerous, you shouldn’t have candles around children, there’s so much junk on the table it’ll catch on fire. But, I like to try new things so I thought I’d give it a try with a jar candle (after I cleaned the table off). It was magic. My daughter rushes to sit down for lighting the candle. We sing a prayer and then eat. My husband no longer has a computer in front of him. We talk about our day. We make faces with Pumpkin 2. Pumpkin 1 doesn’t always eat but she stays at the table since the rule is now that you can’t leave until we blow the candle out. She wants to be at the table with us. We are actually having family dinners. It so lovely and fun. It’s so special. When we’re done eating we recite a Hebrew prayer and then put out the candle.
There was some safety concerns. I had to remember to stop reaching across the table over the candle to give something to my son, and my daughter knocked a small candle out of my hand today. She was given a stern lecture on being careful around candles but that’s important to learn anyway. And of course we keep them out of the reach of Pumpkin 2. He likes at the end to blow and then wave his hand in the air like we do to blow out the candle and then wave the smoke away.
I never thought something as simple as lighting a candle could transform our dinner time. Perhaps it’s not the candle itself but the act of making dinner special and set apart; of making an effort and a tradition. Whatever it is, it has transformed chaos into beauty and I’m so thankful for that.
Of course there are still spills, and refusing to eat and I still get up and down and up and down, but overall there is a feeling of peace, of closeness and of this time being special. It’s hard to find time together as a family with the busy life of little ones, it’s something you have to work to create and keep and is easy to lose. Creating a tradition of lighting a candle which says, this time, this time that this candle is burning, is our time together is a simple step that has had a big impact on our family.