Thursday, August 28, 2008

Unity Schmoonity

The unity candle, which is now a part of most traditional U.S. wedding ceremonies, is not really all that traditional. Wikipedia guesses that it is about 30 or 40 years old. So how did this new ritual become to many as necessary as marriage itself?

You know how it goes: At the beginning of the wedding ceremony, a representative from each family (usually the mothers of the bride and groom) light two taper candles, which represent the bride and the groom. Later in the ceremony, the bride and groom use the two taper candles to light the large pillar (unity) candle together.

There is major disagreement about whether the bride and groom should blow out the taper candles. Ten or twenty years ago, nearly everyone blew out the tapers, to represent the bride and groom leaving their respective families and starting a new family together. Today, the opposite is true – most brides and grooms leave the tapers lit to symbolize the continued existence of their individual identities, separate from their relationship as a couple.

Alternatives to the unity candle began to spring up over the past ten years as well, mainly because many couples opted for outdoor weddings, which make it difficult to keep the candles lit. If the candles go kaput, so does the lovely symbolism. One alternative is the sand ceremony, where the bride and groom each have a different color of sand, which they pour together into a larger vessel. This ritual can also be performed with different colored water or wine.

Crazy things can happen on one’s wedding day. (It has always puzzled me that people say they want their wedding day to be perfect. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a “perfect” day when I do the same things I do every other day – things at which I have a ton of practice – like going to work, eating lunch, answering the phone . . . . So why on earth would I have a perfect day when I do a bunch of things I’ve never done before – like wearing a poofy white dress, feeding the Mister cake in front of a gazillion people, lighting a candle at church . . . .)

The candle can refuse to light, leaving the couple (and all their guests!) speculating about the future of their union. And I’ve watched enough America’s Funniest Home Videos to know that the unity candle ceremony can have fiery consequences. Tulle + fire = danger!


I respect the fact that some people want to take these risks. (Actually, I think these people are crazy! Who am I kidding?) I have visions of tripping up the altar steps and into the candle, followed by STOP, DROP, and ROLL.

What I do respect is the desire to include a ritual within the marriage ritual that further solemnizes the marriage. Rituals provide security, stability, meaning, and a sense of belonging. But why have we as Americans chosen a ritual whose main risk is catching fire and whose main benefit is to candle manufacturers? I've heard the story of a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister each "blaming" each other's church for the unity candle ritual. Instead of calling it a Catholic ritual or a Protestant ritual, they agreed to call it a Hallmark ritual, and to discourage it in weddings they perform.

The Mister and I have therefore spent some time considering the rituals for our marriage ceremony. More on that later. But for now, we've reached this decision: No unity candle for this clumsy dame. Sheesh!

What about you? Do you plan to/Did you have a unity candle ceremony?


Meg said...

Ugh. I hate this "tradition." It's first known source is a soap opera wedding in the 1970's. As for what it represents? Ahhh! We're staying our own people, thanks. But I mostly hate the faux ritual aspect. People don't know it's a relativly new, made by the soaps ritul.

Thank goodness in our case we have lots of glass breaking, circling, wine drinking, seven blessing having, ketubah signing, and vow saying to do. We don't need extras!

Ashley said...

I, for one, hate both the unity candle and unity sand ceremonies. I feel like it's just too much ceremony. I feel like people have forgotten that the exchange of the rings is actually a ritual in itself. The ring is a circle which is supposed to represent "neverendingness" and we exchange them as a commitment to one another. The wedding in itself is enough ceremony for me, I don't feel as if I should have ceremonies within ceremonies within ceremonies.
I just heard recently that someone was going to wash her hubby to-be's feet in order to show that she will always serve him. I don't like that too much unless he's washing my feet, too! :) But, to each his own.
Good luck on finding yours!