When Do You Light the Unity Candle?

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Wedding ceremonies in the United States often include the tradition of lighting a unity candle. The ritual, performed by the two people being married, symbolizes their new life as combined entity. Many times two smaller candles are lit at the beginning of the ceremony, often by the mothers of the wedding couple, to be used to light the flame of the unity candle. Whether the couple opts for a traditional pillar style candle, a floating candle or an oil lamp style candle, there are several times during the wedding day that the unity candle will be lit.

Lighting the Unity Candle Before the Ceremony

  • Lighting the unity candle before the ceremony may occur for two reasons. Many couples test the wick on the candle to make sure it will light. If the wick has too much of a wax coating, is too short or has melted into the top of the candle, it will need to be adjusted before the ceremony. A quick test lighting by a friend or family member before the ceremony will help ensure a smooth ceremonial lighting. Be sure the candle is extinguished quickly and carefully, before any guests arrive.

    Lighting the unity candle is also common during pre-ceremony professional portraits. The wedding photographer may stage several ceremonial portraits, including a unity candle lighting. This ensures a well-positioned couple in front of the wedding keepsake. Even though the positioning and ceremony are staged, the candle will actually be lit for a short time. Some wedding photographers may allow a brief portrait session between the ceremony and reception. Ask the photographer if the unity candle photographs can be taken at that time.

Lighting the Unity Candle During the Ceremony

  • At the start of a wedding ceremony, it is traditional for the mothers of the bride and groom to approach the altar area and each light one small candle. If the ceremony is for a second marriage, and if the bride and/or groom has children, they may also have the honor of lighting the small candles. This often happens just after the ushers seat the family members at the very start of the ceremony. Later in the ceremony, the wedding couple will use those two smaller candles to ignite the flame on the unity candle. This main unity candle lighting happens after vows are exchanged. A soloist may sing, a family member may read a poem or instrumental music may be played while the bride and groom light their unity candle.

Lighting the Unity Candle During the Reception

  • A unity candle can also be used as a decoration during the wedding reception. The candle may be placed on the head table near the wedding couple, or near the guest book. Although there should not be a ceremonial lighting of the candle during the reception, it may burn brightly during the evening as a symbol of the newly formed commitment.

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