The candle manufacturers, like any good company, are never ones to turn down a new trend. The advent of unity candles into Protestant weddings some 30 or 40 years ago was just such a trend and today has become a booming business for the makers of all things waxy and flammable.
The act itself is packed with symbolism, the creation of a tradition that involves the entirety of both the bride and groom’s in-laws in the act of joining in matrimony. The mothers of both the Bride and Groom will light a candle, and depending on just how symbolic said families are, the grandparents might light those candles for the mothers. The Bride and Groom will then take their freshly lit candles and light the unity candle, a single flame between them to symbolize their union. It usually takes place after the vows are completed.
The origins of the unity candle are still fuzzy, as no one will own up to the initial introduction of the tradition. Born in America within the last 50 years or so, some believe it to have sprouted from the Catholic Church, although the rite itself is not permitted in Catholic weddings now as it’s not part of the wedding Mass.
Like Valentine’s Day and any other candy coated holiday that Hallmark invented, some even believe it to be the result of a marketing guru within the candle making companies themselves thinking of new ways to spread their product. The truth may never be known, but the history is entertaining nonetheless.
Some will even point to a particular wedding on General Hospital in 1981 in which the symbolic lighting was performed, but there are records of the Unity Candle being lit earlier than that in Protestant ceremonies. The appearance of the candle on a show like General Hospital no doubt didn’t work towards curbing the newly created tradition though.
As for the importance of the ceremony, it’s a symbolic show of unity under God, but also under the eyes of two families coming together. The use of a unity candle is just one more way to show visually how two people feel about each other on the most important day of their relationship. The candle itself means nothing, it’s the act with which it is lit, and that’s more than a good reason why the origin itself isn’t necessarily as important as the thought behind the act.