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A votive candle or prayer candle is a small candle, typically white or beeswax yellow, intended to be burnt as a votive offering in a religious ceremony. It now also refers to a standard size of candle two inches high by one and a half inches diameter, of any color or scent.
 Christian use
Candles are lit for prayer intentions. To "light a candle for someone" indicates one's intention to say a prayer for another person, and the candle symbolizes that prayer. A donation box intended to defray candle costs generally accompanies votive candles. In some churches, the donation is considered a mandatory contribution in exchange for lighting a candle.
 Roman Catholicism
In the Roman Catholic Church, candles are placed before a statue of Jesus or of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Often, in older or traditional churches, this will be before a side altar. Candles used may vary from long, taper-type candles to tealight candles. Tealight candles are either placed in holders or just on a platform in front of the statue. Long candles may be placed in a special holder.
 Eastern Orthodoxy
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, candles are lit before icons, usually of Jesus Christ or the Holy Theotokos. Usually Orthodox churches only use long, thin candles. These are usually placed in round containers, having either various sockets to hold the candles, or in a container filled with sand, in which the worshippers place their candles. Orthodox churches will usually have a separate place to put candles lit for the departed; Roman Catholic churches make no such distinction.
Some Anglican churches (typically High Anglican churches) also have votive candles for purposes similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. They use the candles to pray for the dead as well as to ask for saintly intercession.
Lutheran churches may use votive candles which may be lit at home or at the church. They are usually lit on altar racks, altar rails, or in front of a cross. They also may be lit during the Liturgy of Good Friday.
In the United Methodist Church of the High Church tradition, during the liturgical celebration of All Saint's Day, votive candles are lit and a prayer is said with each candle for each person of the congregation who has died that year. Methodism does not practice intercessory prayers of the saints, and uses the votive candles to pray directly to God.
 Hinduism use
Burning a votive candle as a prayer for someone or some situation, is also often used as a ritual in India. At the river the Ganges people often offer votive candles.
 Buddhist use
As with most religions that utilize candles for prayer, Buddhists traditionally light votive candles to be made as offerings. Lights serve as a symbol of illuminating wisdom and a reminder of the Buddha's last sermon, in which he exhorted his disciples to follow the teachings rather than the teacher himself.
 Votive candle composition
Votive candles are made from paraffin or wax, but there are different grades of paraffin with different melting points. Often paraffin is mixed with other types of waxes like beeswax or vegetable wax. This is done to obtain the rigidity necessary for the type of candle being made. Depending on the quality of wax used, a candle may burn very fast or very slow. It may have a low melting point and produce little to no oil, such as a taper candle that sits in a candle holder "ring," or it may have a very low melting point and turn to oil, as with votives that sit in glass cups. Pillar candles, large candles often with multiple wicks, have their own formula. Candle quality also varies widely depending on the candle maker. The aroma from a lighted scented candle is released through the evaporation of the fragrance from the hot wax pool and from the solid candle itself. It’s highly unlikely that you would find a lead wick in any candle sold in the U.S. today. Lead-core wicks have been banned from the U.S. since 2003, and members of the National Candle Association - which account for more than 90% of candles made in the U.S. - have not used lead wicks for more than 30 years. Reputable manufacturers use cotton, cotton-paper, zinc-core or tin-core wicks, all of which are known to be safe. 
 See also
Media related to Votive candles at Wikimedia Commons