What Does the Unity Candle Symbolize?
An increasing number of couples are going away from traditional wedding ceremonies and choosing to have a ceremony that is more reflective of their own personality. A unity candle ceremony can be a nice addition to any wedding ceremony, but you may not know what the unity candle symbolizes.
In this ceremony, the couple will each light an individual candle, and then they will use those candles to light a third “unity” candle together. This represents joining two lives into one union.
This is often done in conjunction with other rituals that also symbolize the joining of two lives, such as jumping over a broom or breaking glass, which both have ancient roots in other cultures.
10 Unity Candle Alternatives
Unity candles are popular at weddings, but they’re far from the only option. If you’re not a fan of the traditional candles, here are 10 unity candle alternatives you might want to consider instead.
1. Unity Sand Ceremony
This is often seen as an alternative to the unity candle lighting ceremony, but it can be used in conjunction with it. Each person pours a different color of sand into a container to symbolize joining together as a couple.
In addition to being more convenient than candles (you don’t have to worry about a breeze blowing out the candles or wax dripping on the floor), one of the benefits of this ceremony is that it’s easy to add sand from family members who couldn’t attend your wedding ceremony. The sand can also be displayed in your home after the wedding.
2. Wishing Stones
Instead of lighting a candle, each partner can write a wish on a stone and then place their stones in a bowl or vase at the altar. If you want, you can combine this with another unity ceremony such as a sand ceremony so that you’d use both stones and sand in your wedding ceremony.
The handfasting tradition involves binding your hands together with ribbon or cords. The ends of the ribbons or cords are tied together, symbolizing how you’ll “tie” yourselves together as husband and wife. You can use any color ribbons or cords you’d like, and they can be simple, or they can be decorated with beads, charms, or other embellishments that are meaningful to you as a couple.
4. A unity tree
A unity tree is a terrific way to bring the outdoors into your wedding ceremony and reception, especially if you’re having a destination wedding at a resort in the mountains or by the beach. The officiant typically uses another portion of the ceremony to explain the meaning of a unity tree: It’s a symbol that you and your partner are planting the seed of your love together.
You’ll then pour soil or sand into a glass vase, perhaps customizing it with your names and wedding date. After pouring, you’ll mix it together and plant a small tree sapling or plant on top of it. You’ll have a wonderful visual reminder of your wedding day every time you look at the tree (and maybe even get some fruit from it years later!).
5. Wine box ceremony
In this ceremony, the couple takes time to write letters to each other on their wedding day, then seal them in a box with a bottle of wine. On an anniversary date (the first is often suggested), they’ll open the box together, read their letters, and drink the wine while reminiscing about their wedding day and everything that has happened since.
6. Candle-lighting ceremony
Some brides and grooms like to bring in candles as part of their processional, but not everyone wants to use them during the ceremony itself. Two taper candles can be lit by the couple’s mothers during the service, symbolizing that the new life they’re creating is based on the lives of their parents. The candles can then be used later in the evening to light all the other candles on your reception tables.
7. Infinity loop ceremony
An infinity loop ceremony is similar to a sand ceremony but uses ribbon instead of sand. You can use any number of colors or patterns, and each color represents something different in your relationship or family
8. Flower ceremony
Use a flower vase as a substitute for the unity candle. During the wedding ceremony, each of you takes one or two flowers from your bouquet and places them in the vase. You can have your florist create a special arrangement for this purpose.
9. Rose ceremony
This is similar to the flower ceremony, but it only involves roses placed in a vase. Instead of using your wedding bouquets, you can have your florist create two separate rose bouquets that are placed side by side on a table during the ceremony. The roses are then added to the arrangement together at the same time.
Lasso ceremonies are common in Mexican weddings and some other Hispanic cultures and involve using rope or ribbon to symbolically lasso the couple together before they say their vows.
11. Herbs or spices
You can use herbs or spices that have special significance for you, such as rosemary for remembrance or nutmeg for joyfulness. These can be sprinkled onto your table during the reception as well for decoration and aroma.
12. Foot washing
In this unity ritual, each person washes the other’s feet and dries them with a towel, which is then displayed at home.
13. Ring warming
Have friends and family hold your wedding rings during the ceremony so they become infused with their love before you exchange them.
14. Tree planting ceremony
In this simple but powerful unity tradition, the bride and groom each plant a seedling in a pot during their ceremony or reception and water it together as a symbol of their growing love for one another.
15. Unity Cross Ceremony
For an alternative unity candle ceremony, couples can choose the unity cross ceremony instead. This option is called so because it uses a cross as opposed to a candle for the ritual. The bride and groom each hold pieces of the cross and place them together at the end of the ritual. Once they are joined together, the cross is displayed in their home as a reminder of their marriage vows and love for one another.
16. Cup ceremony
In this ritual, the bride and groom each fill a cup with wine or cider and then exchange them, taking turns drinking from the other person’s cup to symbolize their unity. This is a great option for an outdoor wedding!
17. Unity braid
In this ritual, the bride and groom each have cords (different colors) that they braid together to symbolize the joining of their lives. You can do this right at the altar or during your reception! If you do it during your reception, you can incorporate it into your first dance as husband and wife!
18. Breaking glass
This is a tradition from Jewish weddings, where the groom breaks a wine glass as part of the ceremony. There are various reasons given for this tradition, but it is said to symbolize the fragility of life and the joy and sadness that any partnership will bring.
However, most couples who opt for the breaking glass ceremony don’t use it as a metaphor for tragedy in their relationship! Instead, they focus on how their union will help them build lives together and make their shared lives happier.
19. Unity puzzle
A unity puzzle is another simple but meaningful alternative to the unity candle. All you need is a puzzle made up of two pieces that fit together perfectly. Each person holds one-half of the puzzle during the ceremony (representing each individual’s life), then joins them together (symbolizing their union).
20. Individual Vases of Flowers
This is such a pretty option for any wedding but especially for an outdoor garden wedding. Each member of the couple brings their own vase of flowers for their side of the family. The bride and groom can then place them together at the altar to symbolize their union. If you like this idea but don’t want to use flowers, try other options such as potted plants or even just two different colored vases.
21. Two Colors Joined Together
Another simple way to symbolize the joining together of two people is to use two colors throughout the entire ceremony such as tying ribbons around voting chairs or using two colors in your aisle runner. You could also use two colors in your flower arrangements, or perhaps use one color on one side of the center aisle and a second color on the other side. The possibilities are endless!
This symbolizes cleansing and purity. The bride and groom each wash one another’s hands while they say their vows.
23. A unity tablecloth
The unity tablecloth ceremony is great for couples who want to honor the tradition of sharing bread and wine during their vows but don’t want to utilize wine glasses or goblets during their vows. You can even use this idea if you’ve chosen to serve cocktails instead of wine at your reception! At some point in the ceremony, either before or after exchanging rings, you’ll stand next to each other and each holds one corner of a small, square tablecloth.
You’ll use the corners of the cloth to pass a loaf of freshly baked bread from one person to the other, take a bite, and then feed it to each other. The cloth symbolizes your commitment to serving one another as you move into married life.
24. A unity wreath
A unity wreath ceremony doesn’t have much to do with flowers, surprisingly enough. The bride and groom will each hold one end of a ribbon wreath (you can also use a rope or cord). Using a small pair of scissors, you’ll cut the ends of the ribbon and tie them together. The married couple will then hang the symbol of their marriage in their home. This is especially meaningful if they share a home already.
25. Special keepsakes
If you’re not into the idea of lighting a candle, think about what else could be meaningful to you and your partner. A special heirloom, like a pocket watch or quilt that’s been passed down for generations, can be incorporated into your ceremony. Or you could use a piece of art or jewelry that’s significant to your relationship. The options are endless!
26. Engraved lock
Similar to the infinity loop ceremony, an engraving lock ceremony lets couples put their own individual stamp on a lock that they hang on a fence or bridge. It can symbolize your commitment to each other and how you “lock” in your love.
27. Love poem reading
Having a loved one (or both sets of parents) read a love poem during the ceremony adds personalization and allows couples to express their love in a unique way that incorporated their family members. Choose poems that are meaningful for you and your partners, such as an excerpt from your wedding readings or a childhood favorite book.
28. Salt ceremony
In this ceremony, you’ll need two bowls of salt (one for each partner), a larger bowl, and a mixing spoon or spatula. The bride and groom each pour some salt from their individual bowls into the larger bowl. They then mix the salts together with the spoon, which symbolizes unifying two lives into one family. This is a great choice for couples who plan to be together for life!
Singing your own vows is one way to make your ceremony more personal. You can write a song about any aspect of your relationship and sing it directly to your spouse, or you can put a unique spin on a popular love song. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to secure permission from the song’s copyright owner before you sing it.
Do you have to do a unity candle?
No, you don’t have to do a unity candle. You can choose any unity ceremony you want.
If you decide on the unity candle, it can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. If you have children from a previous marriage who are not part of the wedding party, some couples use the taper candles for special recognition of their children.
Lighting a large candle from two tapers symbolizes that two lives have been joined together in marriage and will continue to blaze together as one flame.
Traditionally, the mothers of the bride and groom light the two taper candles, symbolizing the love and support they have given their children throughout their lives. The bride and groom then take the lit tapers and light the larger center candle together, representing their united future.
Unique, personal, and meaningful: A wedding ceremony is all of this and more. But sometimes the little details can overwhelm a couple. One of these details can be the unity ceremony, which is a symbolic way to show two people becoming one.
It’s a lovely part of the service, but it’s also an opportunity to get creative. You don’t have to stick with the traditional unity candle lighting if you want something different.
In summary, some people don’t want to use a unity candle because they don’t want the symbolic fire or they’re not religious. That’s fine! If that’s you, go ahead and skip it. But there are still a few reasons why you might want to consider one anyway:
It can be fun. The unity candle ceremony can be a fun moment for your guests to watch, especially if you have kids at your wedding party. They can add an element of surprise by dropping glitter or confetti on the newlyweds as they leave the stage. Your audience is sure to love it!
It’s a time-honored tradition. Unity candles have been around since the 6th century, so why not take part in a ceremony that has stood the test of time? It just feels traditional, and many couples like that about it.
It’s an intimate moment for newlyweds. At some point during your wedding day, you will undoubtedly be swept up by everything happening around you — family members hugging each other, friends catching up with one another, and so on. The unity candle is a great opportunity to step back and enjoy some alone time with your partner before the reception starts.