Over the past decade or so, unity candles have become a very popular part of traditional wedding ceremonies, and plenty of friends these days approach me to supply them with these candles when their children get married. I used them myself for my eldest daughter’s wedding last year, though my 69-year-old mother rather sniffily said that these new fangled ideas had no business to be in church!
While that is open to debate, what does seem certain is that the popularity of unity candles is set to grow. In time, they may even come to be regarded as a traditional aspect of Christian weddings. Personally, I think it is a wonderful idea to light candles that symbolize the union of two souls, and I would warmly congratulate the person who invented the custom.
Speaking of two souls, the custom is to actually light three candles – one each for the two people getting married, and one larger pillar candle to signify the union. At my daughter Joanna’s wedding last year, I used a special candle holder that accommodated all three candles, though most people I know prefer individual candle holders.
When I make unity candles, I prefer to make the two single candles thin and tapering, while the larger candle is a no-frills pillar. Lighting these candles obviously holds no religious connotations, so there are no rules about how to light them. However, the practice seems to be to light them right after the exchange of wedding rings and before the ‘I now announce you man and wife’ part.
Who actually lights these candles? Once again, there are no hard and fast rules, but I have been to weddings where the two single candles were lit before the actual ceremony, and the larger candle during. At Joanna and Grant’s wedding, my husband Dean and I lit the candles after the exchange of rings along with Grant’s parents Ellie and Hugh, by common consensus!
It is not uncommon for the bride and groom to each light his and her own candles during the ceremony. They then light the larger candle together as a symbol of unity and blow out the individual candles as a sign that they are now leaving ‘single-hood’ behind, though some people regard it as a bad omen to blow out these candles. Personally, I would think it was better to leave them lit, indicating that one was not sacrificing one’s individuality at the altar of marriage.
Unity candles can be plain or showy, colored or white, and shaped like lots of things. So what do you do with the unity candles once the wedding ceremony is over? Keep them to light for special occasions like your anniversary or the birth of a new child, of course!
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Tania Penwell is a successful author who provides information on unity candles and wedding candles for Candles 4U - your guide to candles and candlemaking.