A unity candle ceremony is a wedding ritual which uses lighted candles to symbolise the uniting of a couple in marriage. It’s one of my favourite symbolic rituals, because it’s simple, meaningful and unpretentious. It adds an extra dimension to a wedding ceremony, it looks beautiful and everyone gets it.
It’s typically used for the wedding couple, but it can represent the uniting of the couple’s two families through marriage. I also like to use it to include step-children into a second marriage. The unity candle, with individual candles for all the children, expresses the children’s importance within the new family: all together, equally loved and special.
I might also offer a unity candle as part of a celebration of life, to express how the person who has died is still at the heart of the family, loved and remembered.
There’s something special about a candle. Its flickering flame and subtle colours of yellow, orange and blue draw us in. A candle is an ancient symbol of dispelling darkness or negative energy and bringing in light, or positive energy. A candle radiates warmth and calm. Candles are often associated with love and romance. What would a romantic dinner for two be without a candle? Some people worry that candles are a bit ‘churchy’ for them, but in a modern ceremony context, they really aren’t.
And the last reason I like it, is because a unity candle has its own life, beyond your special day. You can light it again on your wedding anniversary, family reunions Christmas Day (or your equivalent celebration), or birthdays. It will always remind you of the first moment you lit it and the significance of that day. It’s a lovely memory when things are going well, and it might be a good visual ‘reset’, when you’re having a bad day/getting on each other’s nerves!!
How does the ceremony work?
In a wedding ceremony, I feel the best moment for a unity candle ceremony is after the vows and the exchange of rings. It’s meaningful at this point, as we’re looking ahead to the future.
I explain to your guests that you have chosen a unity candle ceremony to symbolise your combined personalities, hopes and intentions for your marriage. For most people, this will be new to them and they won’t have seen it before, so I’m careful to make sure they feel included.
I’ll invite you to light your individual candles and then after I’ve said some blessing words that I’ve written for you personally, you’ll light the unity candle together. It can be done in a quiet, reflective way, or in a spirit of happiness and celebration, depending on the atmosphere you want to create.
For a celebration of life, I would want to light the candle at the beginning, as a visual reminder that the person who has died, is always with us, in memory, or in spirit – according to your beliefs.
What do you need for a unity candle ceremony?
You will need two or more smaller candles to symbolise you as a couple, or more, if you’re including other family members. You’ll also need one large unity pillar candle. The unity candle needs to be on a stand; the smaller candles can be in candlesticks, or you just want the unity candle to burn, you can just extinguish the dinner candles and lay them down. It does look good having them all burning together, but it’s your choice.
You can find some beautiful candles on Etsy. Some have natural themes, some are personalised, there are carved styles, minimalist styles and super-swanky- bling styles.
Things to bear in mind
A ritual should always feel right for you and how you are. Don’t have one for the sake of it. The unity candle ceremony is very versatile, but it’s not going to be right for everyone.
Candles are hopeless outside, unless you are using a hurricane lamp. Even so, the slightest gust of wind could blow them out, which is not the symbolism we’re looking for! Bright sunshine also makes the unity candle ceremony hard to see and therefore less effective. For an outdoor summer wedding ritual, I’d probably suggest a sand ceremony, or a hand-fasting instead.
If children are involved, you need some kind of candle drip protectors or guards, to stop hot wax spilling on their hands. Small children obviously need close supervision.
Check that your venue is OK with candles, especially if it’s a historic building. I haven’t had a problem yet, but it’s best to check.
Where to buy:
That’s probably everything you need to know about a unity candle ceremony. If you didn’t know what one was, I hope I’ve enlightened you (haha) and inspired you to consider having one in your wedding ceremony or celebration.