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Dearest Matt:

I finally decided to do it and tie the knot. In planning the wedding ceremony, the subject of the unity candle came up. It seems really asinine to me, and I'm trying to get out of doing it. In doing so, I've been trying to find out the history of it. I can't find anything, which reinforces my original suspicion that it was made up by the Candle Manufacturers of America Ltd just to get some extra cash. O wise one, can you tell me the history/origin of the dreaded unity candle?

-- Bill H., the net

The candle manufacturers deny all charges, but they admit they know a good thing when it happens along. The unity candle happened along about 30, maybe 40 years ago, best we can tell. It seems to be principally an American and a Christian idea. For anyone unfamiliar, a unity candle is a large and expensively decorated candle lighted simultaneously by the bride and groom, each using a candle lighted by their mothers (or mothers and fathers). The mothers' candles may have been lighted by candles lighted by the grandparents, depending on how obsessed with symbolism you are and how big your candle budget is. The gesture represents the uniting of two families. It's also the last time all the in-laws will cooperate in any team effort. As an indicator of how eagerly the candle guys have embraced the idea, one wedding-gear catalog lists a unity candle for $40 and a unity candle specially designed for second marriages for $89.

The research elves have talked to herds of folks who have something to do with weddings -- planning them, performing them, selling stuff to people who plan and perform them -- and the true origin of the unity candle is still very, very fuzzy. It is not part of any religion's formal and official wedding ceremony. Two wedding coordinators believe the waxy rite was first used in Catholic churches and then spread like a grease fire. This might have been simultaneous with the big guitar Mass outbreak; the hippie era was the best thing to happen to the candle industry since invention of the power failure. But depending on their degree of conservatism, some Catholic churches today won't permit unity candles because it's not a traditional element of the wedding Mass.

So, Bill, I don't know where this leaves you and the lucky lady. I tried to find some horror stories of conflagrations or disfiguring wax burns caused by unity candles, but no luck. Maybe encourage your bride to have a surfside ceremony on a very windy beach. Or look deep into your heart and try to figure out why, with all the nonsense that accompanies a wedding, you picked this particular goofy thing to object to. You're not even married yet and already you're arguing about candles. What's going to happen with the big stuff?

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