The lighting of candles is a common element in many of the ceremonies and ritual we use to mark important times in our lives. They help set the mood, by creating the relevant ambience: romantic, mystical, reverent. And they can add many-layered symbolism. Light symbolises life in many cultures and we speak of the flame of life, the flame of love, and see in the flame symbolic suggestions of potential, of purity, of reverence, and of spiritual invocation. And a candlelit ceremony is always very romantic.
However, for safety and other reasons, there are some rules that it would be prudent to follow:
- Even the slightest puff of wind can extinguish the flame or make it hard to light the candle, destroying the symbolism of any candle lighting. So, if your ceremony is being held outdoors encase the candles in a hurricane or in a glass or vase where the top of the flame is well below the rim, or use candles that come in a glass cylinder. Candles in votive holders are useless in this situation as the flame is above the rim. A candle in a glass cylinder has the added advantage of being stable and if left burning, safe.
- If using candles as decoration, be careful about where you place them. If you line a path with candles in hurricanes, jars or cylinders, make sure that it is wide. I’ve seen candles placed in spaces in the railing of a rotunda to good effect. In that situation the candles are virtually in recesses so are less likely to be brushed against.
- While candlelight is romantic it is hard to read by. Ensure there is enough light so that anyone who has to read can actually see what they are reading, and that there is enough light on the signing table for people to see what they are signing.
- Candles with decorations round the base should be protected so that when they burn down they won’t set fire to the decorations. This is especially important if the decoration is paper or dried flowers.
- If anyone is going to be carrying candles, make sure that they:
- Have plenty of room
- Understand that they must not wave their arms around
- Do not have to hold the candle for too long
- Know where to put the candle afterwards, and, if necessary how to safely extinguish the candle before they put it down
- Choose your type of candle carefully. Beeswax candles burn at a much higher temperature than stearin candles so should be avoided because hot melted beeswax will cause a bad burn if it splashes. The good news is that most candles you buy in home stores and supermarkets are stearin candles.
- If you’re having the ceremony inside consider whether anyone present is chemical-sensitive. Candles produce smoke. Though there is unlikely to be a problem if only one candle is used, stearin candles are full of chemicals, and this can cause some discomfort to some people. In particular, avoid pre-perfumed candles as they are most likely to irritate anyone with allergies.
- An ordinary cigarette lighter or matches left on the table can pose a hazard too – they are very attractive to small children. While either will work well to light an unprotected candle, assuming there is no wind, one of the newer gas lighters designed especially for lighting candles in holders is a much more efficient and safer option.
- Be careful how you extinguish candles. Large, thick candles form a pool of molten wax as they burn, and blowing the candle out can blow the hot wax onto people nearby, causing a nasty burn. Be particularly careful with children whose eyes are likely to be on a similar level to a candle on a table. A snuffer is the safest method of extinguishing your candles.
- If you are having your ceremony in a park or outdoors, make sure to keep an eye on fire-bans. In the summer it may be illegal to have open flames.
- If you are having your ceremony in a restaurant or other venue, check that candles are allowed, and what the limit in candle numbers is before the sprinklers are triggered.
Jennifer Cram is a sought after Civil Marriage, Naming and General Celebrant based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. For more information check her website http://www.jennifercram.com
Copyright © 2006 Jennifer Cram. You have permission to publish this article electronically or in print, free of charge, as long as this copyright statement and byline is included.