The Incense Tradition

Published Categorised as Personal

My parents and I arrived in Canada with little but our clothes, my newborn brother, and a few, small things from India like incense burners. Burning incense in Canada felt like a traditional tie to our burgeoning family life.

What traditions have you not kept that your parents had?

The incense burners were brass, painted brass, as I remember. Small. From my child’s perspective, the burners looked like small magical vases that held genies. My parents had to hunt for places that sold boxes of incense sticks. When found, they’d rip off the thin brittle plastic wrapping and pull out a few to slot into the burners. The pale beige sticks sat askew in the burners like tall matches.

My mother — or father — would strike a match. In those days, matches came in thick-paper boxes. Rough red sides created a striking surface. The tops and bottoms showcased the matches’ brand name and colours. Blue. With a hint of red. Each match showed off its white tip in a chalky-feeling red bulb anchoring one end of the miniature stick of wood with its square profile.

Struck, the match lit a little flame that the adult in the room carried towards the end of an incense stick. A draft flickered the flame, and their other hand quickly cupped a protective wall around match and incense stick.

The stick didn’t alight. Instead, the tiniest tendril of smoke rose up out of the incense stick, carrying with it intoxicating scents that spoke of my familiar life. How long we waited to see that tendril rise up before the flame ate the match down to the fingers of the adult!

I blew on the match. The flame fluttered out, and the incense stick’s end narrowed into ash as the smoke tendril wafted a steady stream of fragrance into the room.

That tradition waned over the years. I don’t remember now the reasons for lighting the incense sticks, what occasions triggered us pulling out the burners, scrambling around in drawers to find errant incense sticks and matches.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

Brain injury grief is

extraordinary grief

research proves

needs healing.

But when I moved out, I snagged one of the burners.

We went to Little India to find incense sticks. Lighting them back in our new home felt like a christening of adulthood that connected me like a thread all the way back to India.

But somewhere in those early independent years, the burner vanished into a drawer or box and the incense sticks tumbled into forgettery. I don’t know where the brass burners are anymore. Back with my parents? Hidden in a box in my home?

Every now and then, I think how nice it would be to light incense in one of those small, magical burners, to resurrect memories of a time when the future lay before me exciting and healthy. And then, my mind forgets.

My Duck logo walking on my books in pink and blue shading.



We don’t spam! We will never sell or share your data with anyone.