For thousands of years, candles have symbolized the everlasting spirit. People burn a funeral candle in remembrance of a loved one who has passed away.
Memorial candles have many uses. People currently use them during the funeral service itself, in churches, cemeteries, and homes. The bereaved may light a candle to remember a loved one, pray for their soul, and feel more connected.
History of Funeral Candles
The presence of fire at funerals is as old a custom as funerals themselves. Used throughout history by ancient civilizations, pagans, and Judeo-Christians, fire is an enduring tradition. It provides comfort to the bereaved and respect to the dead.
The word “funeral” itself indicates a torch-lit profession, derived from the Latin funeralis, from funis, a torch. Burials occurred at night so torches were essential. Long after Christians denounced night-time burial as a pagan practice, they would place funeral candles around the body. They also would carry torches in funeral processions.
Ancient cultures lit fires around the body to ward off evil spirits from taking possession of the corpse. Early narratives of death include claims that candles were emblems of joy, Heaven, and life, and ban all dark spirits. Additionally, these narratives revealed that the use of fire confuses the spirit of the deceased. The spirit has not fully realized death has occurred and may return to bring family members into the afterlife.
The belief was that torches and lights at a funeral could guide the departed soul to its eternal abode. Lamps were an aid to the dead to find their way through the darkness. Later, the flickering light of a funeral candle was symbolic of human life.
Uses for Funeral Candles
The sight of burning votive candles is common in most Catholic churches. The candles appear before statues of saints or at shrines.
Lighting a candle is a way of extending one’s prayer and showing solidarity with the person the prayer is for. The Catholic practice of lighting candles has its origins in burning lights at the tombs of martyrs in the catacombs.
The lights burned as a sign of solidarity with Christians still on earth. Because the lights continually burned as a silent vigil, they became known as vigil lights.
For Death Anniversaries
A Yahrzeit, which is Yiddish for “a year’s time,” is the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Every year it is Jewish custom to light a special candle that burns for 24 hours, called a Yahrzeit candle.
They light the funeral candle during the initial mourning period immediately following a death. They also light it on the anniversary of the person’s death and on certain holidays as well.
A holiday celebrated throughout Mexico is the Day of the Dead. The holiday focuses on the gathering of family and friends to pray for and remember those who have died.
People go to cemeteries to be with the departed souls and build private altars with favorite foods and beverages. At home, some families build altars or small shrines. These usually consist of a cross, statues or pictures of the Virgin Mary, pictures of the deceased, and funeral candles.
Here are some examples of other funeral candle customs:
- Catholics light votive candles on All Souls’ Day in memory of the faithful departed.
- Japanese celebrate the Feast of Lanterns.
- During a Chinese funeral, a wake lasts several days. Family members keep an overnight vigil for at least one night. They place person’s picture, flowers, and funeral candles around the body, and the family sits in wait.
- A perpetual light burns on Christ’s tomb in the church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem.
- Mexican culture embraces death as a part of life, and it is important for Mexican Americans to say goodbye. Customs include elaborate funerals, long periods of mourning, and bringing funeral candles to light for nine days following a death.
Meaning of Funeral Candles
Traditionally white to symbolize purity, memorial candles are now easily personalized with photos, quotes, and more.
Funeral candles and memorial candles provide family and friends the affirming power of light. Poets compare the quivering and flickering flames to the uncertainty of life, affected by the forces of fate. When you extinguish the flame, it is symbolic of death.
Memorial candles are significant keepsakes, symbolizing the departed and celebrating life.
Personalizing Funeral Candles
Funeral professionals are now able to offer many options to client families, including personalized funeral and memorial candles. Families will reflect upon the candles for years to come. They will remember those who have left us and the kindness of the funeral home during their period of sorrow.
Personalizing the funeral candle to coordinate with the other funeral stationery also can make for a more complete life celebration. Easily personalize Frazer Consultants’ Life Journey Memorial Candles in-house by using pre-formatted designs in Tribute Center.
Download Tribute Center for free to create personalized candles and other mementos for the families you serve!