Dear Engaged Couples—There’s a true story I tell couples when we talk about unity candles. It goes like this: I have a pastor friend who has told me what not to do with unity candles. He was attending a wedding at a church. He enters the sanctuary, there it is, the unity candle. It is front and center on the altar—flanked, as is the custom, by two smaller candles. At the start of the service, as my friend had anticipated, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom both come forward, soft organ music, (we pastors call that traveling music), playing in the background. The mothers approach the altar. Then, in highly synchronized movements, the mothers each light one of the smaller candles. They pick up their lighted candles and in unison, they light the one large candle. You get the symbolism here, right? The two candles represent the bride and groom, the large unity candle represents the relationship they are about to create? So far so good. Then, the two mothers, return their small candles, to their original places on the altar. Before the mothers return to their seats, though– again, in awesome synchrony– they lean over the altar one more time. My friend thinks, “Oh no, I know what’s coming next!” He is shrieking inside his head, “NO, don’t do it! Don’t do it!” But they DO do it! My friend watches in horror as the two mothers BLOW OUT, yes, BLOW OUT the two smaller candles–the symbolism being, that once the bride and groom say their vows, they will cease to be individuals. Like those candles, their separate identities will be snuffed out forever.I have just related to you how NOT to perform a unity candle ceremony.
The other not-to related to unity candles has to do with place. It is generally not ok to perform a unity candle ceremony outside. As much as you have it in your head, that your wedding service will not be complete without you and your husband or wife-to-be, lighting that one fat candle that represents the two of you as one—wind , even a slight breeze, is enough to extinguish your flame—which leaves everyone wondering if the extinguished flame is an omen of things to come. Over the years brides, grooms and I have really tried to find a solution—hurricane lamps, for instance—however, we have been unsuccessful in finding a way to sustain that most important candle flame.
That said, done correctly, the lighting of a unity candle does have a place in weddings. In fact it can be a wonderful, spiritual dimension to a service. Candles stimulate our senses—feelings and warmth, the smell of candle wax, the play of the flame’s shadow against a wall (if the wedding space is small). In the Christian tradition, a flame represent the Spirit of God, so in a Christian service the flame reminds us that there is another unseen witness to the couple’s marriage vows. Here are two ways brides and grooms have used unity candles in the services I have conducted.
For Christians, the Unity Candle’s flame may represent the spirit of God
1) After family members are seated, but before the wedding party enters, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom come forward, light the two smaller candles and then together light the unity candle. 2) The couple, either at the beginning of the service, or after the ring exchange, lights the unity candle. . I usually keep my mouth shut during this part of the service. It is best, I think, for the guests, the family members, and the bride and groom to choose for themselves what meaning to take from the candle lighting. So, if you are having an indoor wedding, say at a church or banquet hall, AND you are sure that whoever will be lighting the unity candle will NOT be blowing out the smaller candles after the unity candle is lit, go for it! A nice addition to a wedding service. In other words, let your light shine!