Religion & Beliefs

What is a Chanukah Scented Candle?

What does “Mazel tov” even smell like? Read More

By / November 21, 2017

Now that Donald Trump has declared generic holiday greetings to be subversive messages of encouragement to religious minorities, no one is safe— not even marketers of scented candles. Still, with some effort, you can find a few options:

1. Bath & Body Works seems ambivalent, offering an almost subliminal message in place of a full-out Chanukah greeting. Their website boasts a new item; enclosed in a glass jar with a silver label is a Chanukah candle, maybe. The jar is decorated with white dots, and blue “stars,” which have no points at all, but look more like asterisks. Lettering in the font often used for bar mitzvah invitations proclaims, “Mazel tov.” 

When you go to the description, the title of the candle is actually “Vanilla Snowflake,” so it seems you are only being congratulated in Hebrew (or perhaps Yiddish) for buying this item. The description of the fragrance is “Creamy Vanilla, Iced Fir, Wintry Mint, Coconut Flakes.” None of these conjure any association with Chanukah foods, but OK. As for Iced Fir, this is the Jewish candle version of a Chanukah bush.

While it is possible that the “Mazel Tov” candle is not actually intended for Chanukah, which would explain its all-purpose name, other items advertised on the same page include, “Vanilla Bean Noel,” “Frankincense,” and “Myrrh.” The latter two were gifts to Jesus on the first Christmas, though I suppose the third gift, gold, might be trickier to capture in scented form.

The best part of the candle’s listing? The one comment posted about it, which can only increase our fears that the soldiers battling the war on Christmas are sharpening their spears. One embittered Bath & Body Works customer complains about the diversity which “Mazel Tov/Vanilla Snowflake” seems to embrace:


I bet the commenter doesn’t even know that “White Christmas” was written by a Jew.

2. Yankee Candle Company also offers something for the Chosen People. This traditional New England manufacturer is, and I mean this affectionately, much more goyish than the Jewishly-founded Bath & Body Works. While in the past Yankee has sold a clearly designated “Happy Hanukkah” candle in their retail stores, their website currently features only “Festival of Lights.”

This candle claims to offer “A blend of savory spices, rich cinnamon and sweet potpourri to celebrate the season.” Since savory is a broad term which could apply to latkes, “Festival of Lights” seems somewhat more plausible as a Chanukah candle, although its evasive name implies that Yankee Candle might not want to offend anyone. The label is blue and gold with some oddly shaped stars viewed from their sides. If you look closely, they may have six points, or they may be the Star of Bethlehem. There is a candelabrum with nine candles and one appears higher than the rest, so this is not a kinara for Kwanzaa or a St. Lucia crown for Swedish people.

I can personally attest that this candle smells nice, including cinnamon, black pepper, and something smoky that could even be potatoes. Words such as solemn, soothing, and calm come up in the reviews, words which do not necessarily connote family Chanukah celebrations. Judging by the personal anecdotes, Yankee Candle customers purchasing this item include a Bubbe in California, a self-identified Catholic who calls the candle “perfect,” and one incredibly positive person who finds its scent to be a “miracle.” One broad-minded Yankee Candle customer even says that she believes there should be more candles for her Jewish friends, although she herself is an atheist. I will consider her part of the resistance.

3. Paper Source is a craft and stationery store which also sells candles. If you are looking for a candle which smells like a combination of nostalgia and guilt, this is the one for you. “Homesick Hanukkah Candle,” uses sadness to market this very Jewish item. Note that it is not even titled “Homesick for Hanukkah,” which would imply a gentler invitation to revisit your childhood. The description begins, “Remember all those special times surrounded by loved ones.” This is a command, not a question.

The scent, an olfactory combination of Ashkenazic and Sephardic, is that of “Potato Latkes, fresh out of the frying pan with applesauce. Boxes of warm jelly donuts from the corner market.”

At $34.95, I consider this candle to be outside of my price range. If it comes down in price after the holidays I would love to test its bleak and poetic promise.

Whichever candle you choose, you can feel proud in the knowledge that you have sent a message to retailers: Jews also buy scented products which give the illusion of baking when you are too busy to even open a cookbook. Mazel tov (candle) to you for that, and Chag sameach.

Emily Schneider is a writer and educator with a special interest in children’s literature. She lives and works in NYC. She blogs about children’s literature at https://imaginaryelevators.blog.

Image via Max Pixel.