LUXEMBOURG-VILLE — By day her name was Marie-Antoinette Hoffmann, a part-time language teacher and dedicated mother of three. But by night, she was known as “Mam Bougie” and police say she ran a candle-dealing operation that stretched from Clervaux all the way to Differdange.
For readers who are unaware of the dangerous new trend, the illicit goods that Hoffman sold, in alleyways and in Facebook groups for as much as 100 euros each, were promotional birthday candles from the supermarket chain Cactus. Comprising all the letters of the alphabet, the candles come in several different bright colors and, as one mother said, “They looked good enough to eat, so sometimes I did.”
Experts say that even mothers who have never dabbled in candles can become addicted after receiving just a single pack of three. Such was the case with Christine Muller, an architect who, after a visit to Cactus in Bereldange last month, found herself in possession of a blue M, an orange A, and a red R.
“I looked at them, and I thought, curious, they almost spell ‘Mark,’ which is my husband’s name,” she said. “So I marched right back inside for another round of shopping. I needed that special K.”
Within weeks, Christine and her family, now destitute, were forced to move from their 5-bedroom house in Cents to a tiny 3-bedroom apartment in Neudorf. Even then, Muller continued trying to get a K. She found herself driving through the Gare district at 3 a.m. on the off chance she could score. And when she finally got the desired candle by trading a diamond ring inherited from her grandmother, it still wasn’t enough.
“The candle was blue,” she said. “The stupid K was blue. I needed a white or a purple one, for reasons that only fellow Cactus candle addicts can understand.”
The story demonstrates just how far some Luxembourg mothers are willing to go to get their hands on these nefarious items.
Sarah Barker, a stay-at-home mother who lives in Mersch, says that her bi-weekly visits to Cactus were not enough to satisfy her yearnings.
“I just couldn’t stop,” she said from a clinic in Ettelbruck that specializes in addiction to promotional gifts. “I basically had the whole alphabet in every color, except for a green J, which is apparently nearly impossible to get. But seeing as my son’s name is Jonathan, his favorite color is green, and his fifth birthday is coming up, I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”
“Have you got a green J on you?” she said as a nurse administered sedatives. “Seriously, I just want to sniff it.”
Junglinster-based psychologist Marine Pohl says that the most important thing about the Cactus candle craze is to avoid getting started in the first place.
“When the cashier hands you that little cardboard box, just say, no merci, I’m not into that,” she said. “If you find boxes around your home, use a pair of tongs to place them in an outside rubbish bin.”
“If you discover that any of your loved ones have a problem with these candles, wait until they leave home, bake a cake, and on it arrange the candles to form a supportive message, something like, ‘You have a weird problem, and that’s okay, because we love you anyway,” she said. “When the addict comes home, let them read the message out loud, then use a flamethrower to melt down all those evil little bastards until there is nothing left but a puddle of brown wax.”