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Photograph by Traci Hukill

Wickin' Ceremony

The weird spell of candle parties

By Traci Hukill

TWO WEEKS AGO a shipment of scented candles arrived at my door. The box was 3 feet long, 2 feet wide and smelled like a Hallmark gift shop. Inside it were some $200 worth of candles and candle holders I'd helped foist on my friends, plus a gift certificate for me from Plymouth, Mass.-based PartyLite Inc. for my trouble.

Looking down at the open box, I marveled. I had been a reluctant participant in the PartyLite scheme from the get-go, rolling my eyes even as I reached for my checkbook. Yet here I was, stacking up boxes of candles for my friends. Putting the boxes in pretty little bags. Thinking about how I was going to spend that gift certificate.

It all started innocently enough, with an invitation from my neighbor, whom I'll call Clementine, to attend a candle party at her house.

"Candle party?" I queried, suspicious. "What's that?"

"It's like a Tupperware party, hon, only it's candles," she answered breezily.

This was surprising. Clementine is what people used to call a dish--a high heel-wearing, hair-bleaching-and-perming, fuzzy sweater-buying chick with sass and moxie. Tupperware candles and Clementine? Not likely. Or so I thought.

I agreed to go. Clementine has unselfishly accompanied me on several journalistic missions, each of them inconvenient. I owed her, and besides, she needed the support. So at the appointed hour I appeared at her house.

There were cheese and crackers and pear slices. And wine, of course--slender-stemmed goblets of it, syrupy and crimson. Amid laughter and much animated conversation, about a dozen women settled into the small living room, four to the couch, three on rickety dining room chairs, the rest on the floor.

The lights dimmed. Candles blazed on a cloth-covered table. Clementine thanked everyone for coming and introduced her friend, Marion the PartyLite distributor, who launched into the story of one Mabel Baker, the inventive godmother of Colonial Candle of Cape Cod, and how she started making candles for Christmas presents in 1905.

The bespectacled and sensible Marion praised the virtues of the candles that PartyLite sells, showing us how the wicks (lead-free!) of the votives could be removed and reinserted upside down so the votives would fit into elegant PartyLite holders. The audience, at first merely polite, grew intensely interested as the shortcomings of lesser, store-bought candles were exposed.

"PartyLite candles burn evenly," Marion said. "With other candles, you'll get uneven walls as you burn to the bottom--if your wick even lasts that long."

There were grumblings of assent around the room and vigorous nodding. We were tired of disappearing wicks, dammit! Marion showed us how to prevent unsightly splatterings of wax by extinguishing our candles with a solid brass PartyLite snuffer. She demonstrated "hugging" warm candles to keep them well-shaped. And then she told us that we could become PartyLite distributors, too, and make extra money without doing a lot of work.

When the lights came back on, Clementine's eyes were bright with PartyLite fever. She needed six people to throw candle parties so she could secure her distributorship. She wanted in. Now. One by one she approached her guests. The strong ones held their ground. The weak ones, like me, crumbled. "I am pathetic," I thought, adding my name to the hostess list. A general frenzy of form-filling and check-writing ensued, during which I bought a $30 candle holder. The check bounced.

The next morning I awoke with a typical case of buyer's remorse. But what to do? One by one I started hitting my friends up to come to my candle party, shamefaced, prefacing my invitations with detailed explanations of Clementine's desire to distribute PartyLite candles. Not mine, I repeated. Clementine's. People gave me sympathetic looks. They understood. Sure, they'd come. They liked candles.

Technically speaking, my party was a flop. Three out of the paltry seven guests called in sick at the last minute, which turned out to be fine because I got stuck in traffic and was late to my own party. But the rest--what champs! They spent enough money to earn me a PartyLite gift certificate, making me both grateful and guilty. Clementine tells me that although she wasn't sure PartyLite was her "style," she's glad she did it.

"Pookie, I'm making pretty good money for hardly doing anything," she says. "It's weird."

Those PartyLite people, they're no fools. If there's one thing you can count on in life, it's the sympathy of women. May it enrich us all.

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From the March 30-April 5, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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