| Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Rituals
The Unity Candle is the central candle in a set of
three or more candles. It is usually a pillar candle
that is flanked by two shorter and slimmer candles
often referred to as side candles or tapers.
The traditional Unity Candle ritual (often referred to
as a ceremony) is a two-part ritual that symbolises
the union of a couple, each entering this new phase of
their relationship with their own history,
personality, and family influences, and, by extension,
the joining of two families. In the first part of the
ritual representatives of the couple or their families
light the side candles, often referred to as the
family candles. In the second part of the ritual the
couple takes the lit side candles and together they
light the Unity Candle.
A common alternative version of the ritual
involves only the couple, symbolizing their commitment
to one another in their union. In that version the
side candles are taken to represent the pre-marriage
separateness of the marrying couple.
You should set up the Unity Candle area in such a way
that guests will have a good view of the lighting of
the candles and your photographer will be able to
capture the moment. You should position the table so
that you can stand behind or on either side of
it. With that placement nobody participating in the
ritual has his/her back to the guests or to the
While it is the symbolism of the act of lighting the
candles that is central to the Unity Candle ritual,
paying attention to utility and safety considerations
in choosing and using them is important.
What you will need
Minimum requirements are:
- A pillar candle for the central (Unity) candle
- 2 side candles
- Candle holders, stands or plates
- A means of lighting the candles.
If you choose to involve more people in the ritual,
you may need additional candles.
Choosing your Candles
The most important consideration is the quality of the
candle because they burn well, whereas cheap candles,
however beautifully, and expensively, decorated, do
not. The quality of the candle is particularly
important if you are buying colored candles. A quality
colored candle is the same color all through. Cheaper
colored candles may be white candles covered with a
thin flaky layer of dye. The type of wick also plays a
critical part in how the candle burns.
For the Unity Candle, choose a larger candle that will
burn with a bigger flame. Make sure that it has an
even flat base, so it will stand perfectly upright and
therefore be less likely to drip wax. For the side
candles choose candles thick enough to ensure they can
safely remain alight throughout the ceremony.
Traditionally the Unity Candle is white with silver
trim, if any. This is possibly because the Unity
Candle ritual became popularized as a feature in
traditional weddings predominantly held in church. If
you plan to keep the candle to relight every wedding
anniversary choosing a plain white candle will allow
you to refresh the candle by giving it a good rub with
an old nylon stocking when it loses its gloss. However
there is no reason why you should not choose colored
candles to coordinate with your color scheme.
Typically the unity candle is positioned in the middle
with the flame at a higher level than the flame of the
candles on either side. You can purchase a variety of
special Unity Candle holders that comply with this
configuration, either as a table model or freestanding
tall candelabra. Or you can stand pillar candles
directly on heatproof plates.
The central candle, the Unity Candle, can be placed in
a tall narrow glass container such as a straight-sided
vase and the space between the candle and the glass
sides filled with real rose petals, decorative sand or
pebbles, or water gel crystals to about one third of
the height of the candle.
When you place the candle in a container, candle
chimney, or hurricane, make sure that the candle is no
more than two-thirds the height of the container and
that the opening at the top is adequate to ensure that
heat does not build up inside the container.
For a different look the candles can be positioned so
that all three flames are at the same height.
A burning candle is never 100% safe. Any open flame is
a potential hazard, something that is recognised by
total fire bans and individual venue policies. Some
venues ban open flames of any type because of their
insurance company's restrictions.
If you are able to include a Unity Candle ritual in
your ceremony, there are a number of things you can do
to minimize the risks associated with the use of
- Choose your candle wax carefully. If you or your
guests are allergy-prone beeswax and soy candles,
which release no toxins when burned, are good.
However, beeswax burns hotter than paraffin wax,
increasing the severity of burns. Soy wax has the
lowest melting point and burns cooler, longer, and
safer than the other waxes.
- Ensure that the surface under the candles will
cope with the heat generated by the burning
candle. If using pillar candles place them on
non-flammable plates, tiles or a mirror for safety
and to protect the table/altar and/or tablecloth
from wax stains.
- The surface should be stable and sturdy to
ensure that the candles do not fall over.
- Keep candles at least 5mm apart.
- Burn a candle no longer than one hour for each
25 mm of its diameter.
- Ensure that any decorations on the candle are
low enough so as to minimize the possibility of
them catching fire and avoid using candles with
dried flowers or leaves embedded in them. Where
the candles are placed at different heights it is
important to ensure that the shorter candles won’t
ignite the decoration on the taller candle.
- If using a hurricane or candle chimney make sure
it is large enough and made of appropriate
material so that it won’t overheat and shatter.
- If candles will be held in the hand or carried
by members of the bridal party ensure that each
has a protective collar so that wax doesn’t drip
onto hands or clothing, and practice with lit
candles at the rehearsal so everyone is used to
holding the candle absolutely vertical.
- Never put candles on the floor because they
could ignite clothing or, if kicked, could splash
hot wax on legs and feet.
- Be careful about putting candles at eye height
because they can ignite veils and hair and wax
could be splashed in people’s eyes. Where there
are children in the bridal party you need to take
note of their eye height as well as that of the
- Be careful when extinguishing candles. Use a
snuffer. Blowing out a candle, particularly a
pillar candle, can cause the wax to splash and
possibly cause a bad burn.
- After extinguishing a candle wait until the wax
hardens before moving it. If you need to move the
candles out of the ceremony space quickly, ensure
that the person you delegate to collect them up
has a pre-prepared container to pack them in so
that they are supported and won’t spill hot wax. A
few ice-blocks popped on top of a pillar candle
will cool the hot wax and speed up solidifying.
If you're interested in learning more about the
history of the Unity Candle Ceremony and the related
Unity Sand Ceremony, I cover that together with
specific examples of different types of Unity Candle
Ceremony in my book Unity Candle & Sand
: A Definitive Guide to the Creative
Use of Candle and Sand Rituals in Wedding and
(available from Amazon.com
Thanks for reading!