How to Brighten Up a Gloomy Winter Breakfast

This post originally appeared in the January 25, 2021 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.


Even in a normal year, the stretch of the calendar between January and March can seem bleak, with few holidays or sunny days to punctuate the dreary, gray cold. People have developed plenty of psychological crutches to survive a harsh winter: blankets, tea, and other related bits of hygge; a “joy toolbox” of essential comforts; a “wintertime ambassador” to play devil’s advocate and remind you to go outside in subfreezing temperatures. Even as 2021 brings some distant sense of hope, and perhaps even promises reason to celebrate by spring or summer, in the meantime, these coping mechanisms are more critical than ever.

The seasonal doldrums hit me hardest in the mornings. I regularly wake up at 6 a.m. (shout out to my fellow morning people). In New York in January, that means rising to a dark sky, which feels particularly absurd these days since there’s not much to do at that hour. I don’t need to catch a train to the office, or go to the gym, or switch out of sweatpants. The whole world seems to start a little later. That’s how I discovered that lighting a few candles at breakfast is a quick hack that imparts a little seasonal positivity.

No one bats an eyelash at a candlelit dinner, yet adding a bit of fire to any other meal seems oddly medieval. Most modern folks don’t reach for candles unless it’s a romantic occasion or the power’s gone out. But candles are a necessary weapon in the battle against winter’s dark, depressing mornings. Many winter holidays focus on fire, from Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in the U.S. to winter solstice festivities like Stonehaven Fireballs and Yalda Night. The glow of the flame not only lights up the night, but brightens spirits too.

Sometime in the fall, my partner and I became the proud owners of a massive box of extra-tall Ikea candles (that is to say, someone offloaded them onto us). We deployed them every night at dinner, burning through them with reckless abandon, trying not to get too precious about it. Some nights we would leave the table set after dinner, carrying over the tablecloth and placemats to the next morning, and the candles naturally followed.

Now we light candles every morning, part of a larger effort to avoid looking at bright devices or harsh artificial light first thing in the day. Breakfast is classically characterized as a chore, essential nutrition that shouldn’t be skipped lest you risk condemnation by four out of five doctors. Before breakfast candles, I enjoyed the most important meal of the day casually. But since breakfast candles, the experience has been transformed into a deeply adored formal ritual. The mellow flicker allows my eyes to slowly acclimate to the day, providing time for my brain to turn on before plunging into email or the news. And even if we don’t fully subscribe to making a fussy breakfast during quarantine, candles make a bowl of oatmeal or some toast feel significant. Their romantic air entices me to linger, to quietly enjoy the extra time saved on commuting during this work-from-home era.

The habit is one I’m planning to keep after COVID. When the pandemic is over, there will be more winters and more dark mornings to enjoy. I’m already ordering another bulk pack of candles.

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