Words by Rosie Steer | 30 Nov 2023

This seasonal activity is taken from Slow Seasons by Rosie Steer.

Rosie Steer

Yule candle

Scottish and Scandinavian traditions involve burning a huge ornamental candle, often in festive shades of red and green or decorated with holly or other evergreens. As the timing of festive celebrations began to shift, the candle would be lit by the head of the household on Christmas Eve and burnt throughout the night – it was often thought to be bad luck if it burnt out before Christmas Day arrived. In Scotland, the candles were often given as gifts and would be placed at the table during Christmas Eve dinner. Decorating your own dinner candles adds a personalised touch to contemporary celebrations.

You will need

  • Plain, unscented wax dinner candles
  • Alcohol wet wipes
  • Old cloth or newspaper
  • Scrap paper
  • Candle holder (optional)
  • Small paint brush or sponge
  • Water-based, non-toxic acrylic paint (this is important – it must be waterbased to be safe to burn)
  • Jar of water


1. First, wipe your candles down with the wet wipes to prepare their surfaces for painting, and then let them air dry.

2. Protect your work surface with paper or a cloth you don’t mind getting paint on.

3. Plan out, experiment and practise your designs and colour palette on the scrap paper. This has to translate into three dimensions – so simple, repeat designs work best, as does a limited colour palette.

4. Once you’re happy with your design, copy it onto the candle with a first coat of paint colour, going in with just a tiny bit of paint on your brush (you can layer up if you need more, but if it is too thick the paint will chip). Either decorate one side at a time, if you prefer painting flat, or pop the candle in the candle holder and turn it as you go. Don’t worry about it being perfect – that’s all part of the homemade charm!

5. Clean your brush in the water, then leave the paint to dry.

6. Go in with your next colour. Repeat, adding the smallest details last. If you mess up, don’t worry – just wipe it off with the wet wipes, air dry and start again.

7. Leave your candles for a few hours until completely dry before you burn them.


  • You can get wax pens for this job and even special kits, but I prefer to use what I have to hand, as I usually have multi-purpose paints for different crafts.
  • Turn your Yule candle into an Advent candle by painting numbers down one side or spiralling them around the candle.

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