Tag Archives: Northern Europe

Never light up a cigarette from a candle

Main piece:

M.P.: If I am not wrong, my grandmother was the one who told me this. So we were in her house and I lighted up a cigarette from a candle. My grandmother basically turned white and told me “No, you don’t light cigarettes from candles”. Whereupon, I didn’t know the reason why. Wait how was it. [pauses in a monument of reflection]. Ah Yes. My grandma said “you don’t light up cigarette from candles because every time you do so a sailor dies”. 
From what I understood there is some sort of historical reason behind this belief, but I am not sure about the specific origin.


My informant is a 23 years old girl who was born in Bologna, Italy, and whose paternal grandmother is now in her 80s. She mentioned this piece to me, because she remembered being particularly surprised by it, especially considering that, despite having been a smoker for quite a bit now, she had never heard it before her grandma advised her against doing such thing. She also added that, even if she does’t consider herself superstitious, she has never done it after the mentioned episode.


My informant told me this folk-belief while she was smoking a cigaret between a course and the next one during a lunch. 


Many are the folk-belief and folk-superstitions which are somehow related to history and historical events. In this case, -despite the multiple assumptions made- this particular saying, mostly diffused in Eastern and Northern Europe, is said to derive from the period in which sailors, after working on sea, used to top up their profits by making and selling matches. Consequently, lighting up a cigarette from a candle, instead of using a match, implied less earnings for sailors, who, left without money, could have eventually starved to death.

In my opinion, two are the things worth of mention. First, it is interesting to notice the process of diffusion the belief underwent, considering that from Eastern and Northern Europe -where the superstition is though to be originated-, it was, someway, propagated in other parts of the continent (if not the world) as well.

Secondly, the aesthetic of belief is, here, one of the principle sources of appeal, as my informant pointed out that, despite her lack of “faith” in superstitions, she has never lighted up a cigaret from a candle never again. This was, probably, due to the fact that it was her grandmother who told her this and, as often happens, older people are perceived as wiser, and, at the same time, the absence of explanation -and the almost mystical curiosity which from it derives- made it more mysteriously fascinating.