The lighting of a unity candle is a relatively recent addition to the traditional wedding ceremony, most popular in the United States. The unity candle ceremony uses two taper candles with a large pillar candle (called the "unity candle") in the center. At the beginning of the wedding ceremony, a representative from each family (usually the mothers of the bride and groom) light the two taper candles. Later in the ceremony (usually after the formal vows), the bride and groom use the two taper candles to light the large pillar (unity) candle together.
Often a unity candle is decorated with the wedding invitation, an inscription, a picture of the couple, or other ornamentation. The candles are almost always white. The lighting ceremony may be accompanied by special music, an explanation of the symbolism, or just some period of mutual gazing by the happy couple. In some circles, it is customary for the couple to save the unity candle and relight it on anniversaries.
It is sometimes performed to symbolize the joining together of the two families, and their love for the bride and the groom, into one united family that loves the new husband and wife. More often it is to symbolize the union of two individuals, becoming one in commitment. The popular explanation is that the taper candles are lit by representatives from each family to symbolize the love and allegiance that each family has for either the bride or the groom. As the bride and groom use these two flames to light the unity candle, they bring the love of both families together in a united love of the new couple. Generally, the two tapers are left burning and replaced in their holders (because each family's love for their own will continue). However, in some ceremonies they may blow out their individual candles.
When the ceremony is alternatively performed to symbolize simply the joining together of the bride and groom, the tapers may be blown out, to indicate that the two lives have been permanently merged, or they may leave them lit beside the central candle, symbolizing that the now-married partners have not lost their individuality.
The use of unity candles is a very recent tradition, though the meaning assigned to the candles can vary.
While the use of unity candles has become widespread, it is prohibited in some churches. It is not part of the Catholic or Anglican wedding ceremonies, and many parishes do not allow its inclusion in the ceremony. While the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not explicitly prohibited the use of the unity candle in the marriage rite, neither has it encouraged the practice. The Conference has noted that the policies of most dioceses do not prohibit this custom but many suggest that it be done at the reception since the Rite of Marriage already has abundant symbols of unity. The analysis of the Bishops regarding unity candles concludes by indicating that if the unity candle is permitted, the couple should light their individual candles from the paschal candle, the individual candles should not be extinguished and the unity candle should not be placed on the altar.
- KOCO. "History of Wedding Traditions: The Wedding Candle". Retrieved 2007-12-12.
- Nina Callaway. "Unity Candles and Other Unity Traditions". About.com. Retrieved 2007-12-12.