With any good market, the idea of a new way in which to sell your product will immediately turn into a fully fledged campaign to get as many products and varieties available as possible. Candle companies, like any good company are never ones to say no to the opportunity. And so, when 30 or 40 years ago a small tradition began to pop up in Protestant weddings of lighting a unity candle, there was little hesitation to make it into its own business.
The act of lighting a unity candle is packed with symbolism, a tradition that joins the families of both the bride and groom in an act meant to show the union of matrimony. The bride and groom’s mothers will both light a candle, and occasionally the grandparents will join in, lighting their own candles. Each set of parents will pass their flame on until it reaches the bride and groom. Then the bride and groom will take their own candles and light the unity candle. They may choose to blow out their candles to symbolize the union of a new individual, or leave them lit to symbolize that they retain their personalities even in marriage. The ceremony usually takes place after the vows are read.
As for where the ceremony came from, the origins of the unity candle are still a little hard to peg down. Sometime in the last 50 years or so in America it began to spread, igniting a trend that was quickly adopted by many Christian marriages. Catholicism is generally not included, because the ceremony is not included in the wedding mass, and thus would not be sanctified by the church.
There are some of a slightly more cynical nature who would lay the origins of the ceremony at the feet of the candle companies themselves, similar to the greeting card influence on lesser holidays like Valentine’s Day. The actual roots of the ceremony will probably never be known, but it’s more likely that the candle companies saw the phenomenon spreading and decided to begin selling unity candles, only causing it to spread.
One notable moment in the history of the tradition is a particular General Hospital wedding in 1981 in which the ceremony was performed, probably bringing sizable attention to it for those that had never witnessed or heard of the unity candle.
Regardless of your cynicism or curiosity though, the importance of the ceremony is clear. It’s a symbolic show of unity under God, but also under the eyes of two families coming together. To perform the unity candle ceremony is to show once more for a couple’s family and friends their commitment and love for each other. It’s not about the candle itself. It’s about the act that lighting the candle symbolizes