Traditionally, the unity candle involves three candles. The bride has one, the groom the other, and their two lighted candles light the third candle. This is done to represent the coming together of the two people to make one unit. In some alternate methods, family members are invited to participate in the unity candle lighting, often the mothers of the bride and groom, or other close members of the family. Each family then lights a candle, and together they light the unity candle to symbolize of the coming together of the families.
Now, there are a few twists you can add to this fairly conventional aspect of a wedding ceremony. You can provide each guest with an unlit candle when they arrive at the ceremony. After the couple lights the unity candle, they can ask the guests to move to the front of the church (or wherever the ceremony is being held) and light their candles with the lighted unity candle. This can take a bit of time and might be best with a smaller guest list. But it is a meaningful way to not only get your guests involved in the ceremony itself, but also symbolize the union of family and friends with the marriage.
If there is a large guest list and it would be a prohibitive waste of time to do a candle lighting involving everyone at the ceremony, some brides and grooms like to bring the unity candle to the reception. Light the candle again and provide each guest with a small votive candle (the candle holder will be on the tables at individual table settings). As guests come into the reception area or hall, they can light their votive and take it to their table to place into the votive holder. This small votive candle can double as a wedding favor, particularly if you decorate or enhance a plain votive candleholder in some way to coordinate with your wedding.
Of course, you can forget having a unity candle at the ceremony altogether. Many brides these days are trying to reduce the length of the ceremony and spend more time planning the reception. In that light, some choose to do away with a unity candle altogether. You can certainly do this, or you can cut it out of the ceremony and make it part of the reception.
To do this, you can use the votive candle option suggested above, or you can simply incorporate the unity candle lighting into the reception activities themselves. For example, you might choose a quiet moment in the reception to have a lighting of the unity candle. It might be during a short prayer prior to the serving of the meal, or right before the cake is cut. In this case, the unity candle can then be used as decoration on the cake table. As the bride and groom cut the cake and pieces are served to guests, the candle can also serve as a reminder of the couple's new bond and that the bond is shared with all the guests as well.
Although having a unity candle at the wedding or reception isn't necessary, it is certainly an option that many brides and grooms opt to include. But it's important to remember that as with so much surrounding wedding planning there are ways to make it unique and interesting and special to the couple getting married.
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