Today in Scandinavia it's Lucia Day - that strange but lovely, half-pagan ritual in which beautiful girls dressed in white nightgowns balance burning candles on their heads while they sing holiday songs. The boys gets to wear the nightgowns, too, as well as a pointed dunce cap with gold and silver stars. Sounds strange, but is actually a beautiful reminder that the Winter Solstice is near, and soon our gloomy winter afternoons will stop getting shorter and start lightening up.
Along with other obsessions, Scandinavians are in love with candlelight - it's called "living light" here, and Swedes alone burn 20,0000 tons of candles each year. Because they are generally oil-based paraffin, that's the equivalent of 15,000 gas cars' emissions of CO2 annually. Now Svanen, Sweden's eco-label, is trying to get people to switch to stearin, or fat-based candles instead of the common paraffin, oil-based ones (soy candles haven't arrived here yet). That might be a hard sell - some people feel that asking them to change their candle habits is a senseless diversion from bigger enviro-issues - especially, perhaps, when IKEA practically gives away the paraffin variety and stearin candles cost more. Only 10 percent of candles sold in Sweden are the stearin variety - they are considered a luxury item. But Svanen candles, when they hit the market next spring, will have an added benefit - they have considerably lower soot particle emissions while burning, improving indoor air quality. Svanen's goal is that next year's official Swedish Lucia will have Svanen-approved eco-candles in her crown. Via ::Bilsport.se (Swedish)