The lighting of the unity candle is a relatively recent addition to the traditional Protestant wedding ceremony. It symbolizes the union of two individuals becoming one in commitment. At a certain point in the ceremony (typically between the exchange of vows and the formal declaration of marriage), the bride and groom light a candle together.
The unity candle ceremony uses two taper candles and a large pillar candle (the unity candle). At the beginning of the wedding ceremony, the mothers of the bride and groom light the two taper candles. Later in the ceremony, the bride and groom will take the two candles and light the large pillar candle together. They may blow out their individual candles or leave them lit beside the central candle, symbolizing that the participants in the marriage have not lost their individuality. Often the unity candle is decorated with the invitation, an inscription, a picture of the couple, or some other ornamentation. Unity candles are often white. The lighting ceremony may be accompanied by a special musical number.
Though commonly performed in Christian weddings, the unity candle ceremony is not Christian in origin and is in fact prohibited in many churches. In all likelihood, it is 30-40 years old. Some sources trace it back to the wedding of Luke and Laura on the soap opera “General Hospital.”
Luke and Laura might have popularized the unity candle, but they didn’t invent it. Luke arrived on the show in 1978 and they were married in 1981. Protestants in Illinois were using the unity candle at least as early as 1976.