There are so many symbolic rites, and each of them adds a touch of magic to the ceremony. As a wedding celebrant, I like to choose and advise the bride and groom who come to me, the ritual that best suits them, the one that can best reflect their love story. I take great care to find (and sometimes to write myself) a symbolic ritual that can add something truly meaningful to their most beautiful moment. A very evocative symbolic ritual is one in which candles are the protagonists: the so-called “Unity Candle Ceremony”.
The Unity Candle Ceremony: how is it performed?
The Unity Candle Ceremony involves both bride and groom: they choose a candle, in the shape and color they prefer, before the ceremony, and light this candle during the ceremony. I, personally, like to have the respective candles lit at the beginning of the ceremony, so that the candles can illuminate from the very beginning of the ceremony, making this moment really special and unique.
At the location where the ceremony takes place, usually on top of a small table, is a third, larger candle, also carefully chosen by the couple. At some point in the ceremony, the bride and groom light this third candle using the flames from their two respective candles. This new flame symbolizes a new beginning: from two single units, from two different and independent individuals, a third dimension is born, literally “comes to light”, a new life that is that of the couple, which is not the mere sum of two parts, but a third entity, new and shining.
Candles are the protagonists of The Unity Candle Ceremony
Candles, today, are used only marginally and on rare occasions, but in the past had great importance in everyday life.
Let us look together at some examples and meanings of these items.
Candles have and have always had a very powerful symbolic value in all traditions and religions and are used in so many rituals; they are formerly considered very precious, now common, but always portentous, involving all the senses: touch, sight, smell, hearing (yes, candles can produce a very unique crackling sound), smell and even the sense of time.
Symbolic meanings of candles
Candles illuminate darkness and bring light into darkness, not only in a material sense but also in a metaphorical sense, as a bringer of hope and knowledge where the darkness of evil and ignorance reigns. Candles represent the triumph of good over evil.
Candles are an invitation to meditation and upward tension, to burn with ardor, always tending toward lofty and noble goals.
Candles are color and warmth, their flame, which always tends upward and even after a breath that causes it to waver, returns with its upward force to blaze upright and resistant to material and moral disturbances, reminds us, like an intangible plumb line, which direction to follow and the attitude to hold. Candles invite us to tend upward, with a straight back, raising ourselves in search of those values that transcend our materiality.
Candles are also a symbol of individuality and human being, which is why the candles that each of the bride and groom use in the Unity Candle Ceremony are similar, in shape, but different in color: the wax represents the body, the material component of our being in the world, the wick the soul, the flame the spirit, and the smoke the metamorphosis that may await us at the moment when we take our last breath and finally detach from the body to unite with the One around us.
Candles represent the Four Elements
Candles represent our being and also the Four Elements: Earth with the wax, Fire with the flame, Water with the melting of the wax, and Air with the smoke of the candle.
We light a candle when we wish to raise a prayer, make a vow, give thanks for a gift received and make a wish, just as we do when we blow out the candles placed on the birthday cake.
Candle are also a symbol of hope, they are our little beacon in the night that help us stay on the course we have set; placed in front of the window they are an invitation to return home for those far away (as sailors’ wives often did during their husbands’ long absences at sea).
Candles are also a symbol of festivity and joyful anticipation during the Advent season, which precedes the Winter Solstice, as evidenced even today by the bright decorations that adorn the windows of homes during the long northern winters.
The game is absolutely worth the candle!
In the Middle Ages, candles were a valuable object that gamblers carried as their share in the game. Hence the saying “The game is not worth the candle” when the losses at the card table were greater than the cost of the candles brought to illuminate the course of the game.
In the Unity Candle Ceremony, candles are at the center of the ceremony and are very precious objects, reminding us how the bride and groom are setting out for the most compelling and exciting challenge there is: to become husband and wife and face life’s challenges together.
And the game is absolutely worth the candle!