SIDON, Lebanon: Youssef Dandan, a priest in Sidon, believes in the old saying, ‘to light a candle is better than cursing the darkness,’ to such an extent that he opened his own candle-making factory.
He believes the candle not only represents the light of Jesus Christ on earth, but can also be a symbol free of sectarian divisions, because everyone likes to light candles, especially for special events.
A religious man from east Sidon, Dandan’s work goes beyond praying and celebrating Mass. With the opening of his factory many years ago it now includes candle manufacturing as well.
These days the priest is overwhelmed and toiling away in his workshop, racing against time to mold wax candles for Palm Sunday. The candles will be carried by children and their parents during the holy day as a symbol of peace and love.
“Twenty-five years ago, the region needed candles, especially the church, so I established this factory to make candles to serve the church and with time we began to produce candles for individual customers too,” he said.
His business is flourishing in part because the area is prone to constant blackouts. Most of the residents earn minimal incomes and are unable to afford generators, so they use Dandan’s candles to ward off the dark.
“[The factory] produces candles that provide light for up to six hours, which can be sold to customers. [We] also produce candles that can be used for religious and social occasions, like Christmas, Palm Sunday and for christenings,” he said.
“I also have Muslim customers buy my candles that they light to recite vows in their religious shrines.”
Lighting a candle in Christianity is significant in many ways, he said. It symbolizes the light of Jesus, and when lit before an icon of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, “we learn to be like the candle, we give light allowing other people to see. We die so that other people can live, just like the candle.”
According to Dandan, the candle has a similar and important symbolic value for Muslims as well because those who light them during religious ceremonies often say, ‘God, give me some of your light.’
“In Sidon, there is a shrine of Sit Nafisa and Muslims buy my candles to light them there,” he said.
The factory imports the wax from abroad and it is shipped to Sidon in large cube shapes that are then melted at temperatures between 60 and 100 degrees. Every candle is molded according to the needs of the customer or to shapes already prescribed for specific religious events.
Dandan emphasized that a candle transcends sectarian divisions because many of his customers are Christians and Muslims and come to him with orders for their special occasions.
He said ordinary candles meant for lighting homes were far easier to make than those for special occasions. These require more time because they need to be molded according to specific shapes and designed a certain way.
Especially arduous are Palm Sunday candles decorated with artificial flowers and drawings that take several days to complete.
The prices of the candles range from $3 to $100, with lengths varying from 30 to 125 cm.
Dandan was molding egg-shaped candles for Easter when he spoke to The Daily Star, saying he would later paint them in different colors for children.
The factory features some of its more artisanal candles, meant to be souvenirs or decorations, in a showroom.
“I have customers from the whole region, from Sidon, Tyre, Nabatieh and Tripoli. I also have customers from other Arab countries, like Qatar. [Some include] Lebanese expatriates who come here to buy candles and take them to their countries,” he said.
He noted his Lebanese customers often request creative candle shapes for their weddings, where throngs of people light them to celebrate the newlyweds.
Indeed, the significance of Dandan’s candles is ever present, as Aisha, a customer of Dandan, points out:
“In weddings we light candles while escorting the bride as she leaves her parents home. Even during the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, public squares are full of people and their lit candles.”