Can't hold a candle to them

red candle

Showing my ignorance of Chinese culture, while we were watching a random yet chilling show on the ABC today, the character on screen sat at a dinnertable behind a candlestand with several white candles that were alight. My mother mentioned that it seemed like someone had died as I wondered how she knew that.

In a chilling turn of events, it seemed someone had — or at least several had and it was likely more would join, despite the fact I’m sure that wasn’t necessarily the intended meaning behind the candlesticks. Regardless, I hadn’t realised before that Chinese people only light white candles for the dead. This is why we have a large red candle at home for any power failures, which have been few this past decade fortunately.

It seems this rule only apples to candlesticks though, and like any other Chinese rule, can be slightly bent so that small white tealights are acceptable. Just like you shouldn’t gift clocks, but a watch is perfectly acceptable.

It’s not the first time white/red has cropped up before though. When I was younger I was told not to wear white on my head because that indicated someone had died, and not to write in red on cards, because it indicated you no longer wanted to be their friend. Yet cards should be on red paper instead of on white, because red is luckier.

Culture is a difficult thing.

Photograph by Kent Landerholm