A unity candle is actually a set of three candles -- two thin tapers and a larger taper or cake candle supported by candle holders. A unity candle is traditionally used in a Christian wedding ceremony to symbolize the merging of two families or personalities into a new one formed in matrimony. If the bride and groom opt for a unity candle ceremony, it is usually performed after the exchange of vows but before the official pronouncement of marriage. The unity candle ceremony is considered optional by most Christian denominations. It does not have to have a religious component, either. Many humanist wedding ceremonies also contain a space for a unity candle affirmation.
During a traditional unity candle ceremony, the bride and groom are invited to a designated area on one side of the altar. The two smaller candles are then lit either by the couple themselves, the best man and maid of honor, the clergyman, or the wedding guests through a chain of smaller candles. After the two tapers are lit, some words about the significance of the unity candle may be spoken by the minister. Commonly, the two candles represent the individual personalities or families of the bride and groom.
When directed, the bride and groom light the larger central candle together. At this point, the two smaller tapers may be extinguished to represent the merging of identities or left burning to represent the continuance of individuality during the marriage. Couples should decide which option best suits their outlook before the wedding day arrives. The central candle continues to burn as the couple returns to the altar for a final blessing and pronouncement of marriage.
If an engaged couple decides to hold a unity candle ceremony, then the wedding coordinator should order the candles and candleholders as part of the overall accessory rental. The central unity candle is commonly decorated with a copy of the wedding invitation or a photographic image of the couple. The entire unity candle set-up should be placed between the congregation and one side of the altar rail before the ceremony. The wedding coordinator should also know who will be responsible for lighting the candles and make sure they have the appropriate lighting materials. The bride and groom could light their individual tapers from an altar candle if a miscommunication should occur.
Even though the candleholders may be considered rental equipment, the unity candle set itself is usually given to the couple as a personal memento of the ceremony.