naomi80-R2-E112The Gaede family in Tanana, Alaska, Christmas 1958

We leaned toward the candle. Our elbows dug into the table top.  I instructed my four-year-old sister, “Ruth, if you do it fast, it won’t hurt.” At age five, I was wise about sticking my finger into the liquid wax puddle around the flaming candle wick.  Tentatively, she reached forward, stuck her pointer finger into the pool and jerked back. We watched it solidify into a thick red cap. “It feels numb, doesn’t it.” She nodded. “Warm, too.”

We didn’t regularly use candles when we lived in Central Kansas, but here in Alaska, the dark winter nights crowded out the daytime, and there was a hunger for light.

Mom (Ruby Leppke Gaede) learned to make candles. She melted the paraffin blocks, added a few drops of color, and poured the mixture into cans with strings pulled tautly through the middle. Once hardened, she slightly warmed the cans, cut off the bottoms, and pushed the candles through. She wasn’t finished. She whipped additional wax and frosted the candles with frothy whiteness. Sequins and glitter completed the light-bearers.

December 21 or 22 is the shortest day in North America; in Anchorage, Alaska, that means 5 hours and 28 minutes of sun peering slightly above the tree tops. In Barrow Alaska, the sun vanishes on November 18, and a slight glow emanates from below the horizon until January 24, when the orb peeks up and slowing climbs out of hibernation.

Mom had come from flat plains where the sun reluctantly slides below distant fields. In Alaska, the sun hurries down, behind mountain ranges and tall spruce forests.  How did she brighten her world, and our lives?

–       Starting in November, she lit candles at the supper table. For variety, and our fascination, she tried tapers that dripped multi-colors which coated a syrup bottle.

–       Inside the house, she outlined our large picture window with Christmas lights. We kids could see these through the trees when we shuffled through the snow from the bus stop in the afternoon darkness. She left them up into January.

What do Alaskans do to battle Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

–       Wear bright colors.

–       Paint and decorate the interiors of their houses with warm pastels.

–       Pull back window shades when there is any ray of light.

–       Build a crackling fire in their wood stoves.

–       Spend time with energetic people.

–       Go outside when it is light. Get fresh air. Keep the body moving.

What do I do?

–       Light a candle at my supper table. The friendly flickering seems alive. It keeps me company.

–       Listen to lively and light-hearted music.

–       Buy myself flowers. My favorites are carnations that stay fresh forever.

–       Go outdoors.

–       Get exercise, either indoors or out.

–       Have a winter project to look forward to.

 What do you do to brighten your world in the winter?

 This article first appeared in the Dec. 2012/Jan. 2013 issue of The Country Register – KS