A candle is a source of light consisting of a solid block of fuel and an embedded wick. Prior to the 19th century most candles were made from tallow, a by-product of beef fat rendering. Nowadays, they are usually made from wax. Paraffin wax is the most common, but there are also candles made from gel, soya and beeswax.
In Christianity the candle is commonly used in worship both for decoration and ambiance, and as a symbol that represent the light of God or, specifically, the light of Christ. The altar candle is often placed on the altar, usually in pairs.
In the Roman Catholic Church a liturgical candle must be made of at least 51% beeswax, the remainder may be paraffin or some other substance. In the Orthodox Church, the tapers offered should be 100% beeswax, unless poverty makes this impossible. For this reason, the stumps from burned candles are usually saved and melted down to make new candles.
In some Western churches, a special candle known as the Paschal candle, specifically represents the Resurrected Christ and is lit only at Easter, funerals, and baptisms. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, during Easter Week the priest holds a special triple candlestick and the deacon holds a large candle during all of the services at which they serve.
In Sweden, St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13 with the crowning of a young girl with a wreath of candles. In raqs sharqi, candles are used as a complementary element in some dance styles. The candles can be either be held on the dancer’s hand or above her head, depending on what the choreography demands.
In Judaism, a pair of candles are lit on Friday evening prior to the start of the weekly Sabbath celebration. On Saturday night, a special candle with several wicks is lit for the Havdalah ritual marking the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week.
The eight day holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting a special candelabrum or Hanukkiyah each night to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
A memorial candle is lit on the Yahrtzeit, or anniversary of the death of a loved one according to the Hebrew calendar. The candle burns for 24 hours. A memorial candle is also lit on Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for all those who perished in the Holocaust.
The Candle is also used in celebrations of Kwanzaa, which is an African American holiday which runs from December 26 to January 1. A Kinara is used to hold candles in these celebrations. It holds seven candles; three red candles to represent African American struggles, one black candle to represent the African American people and three green candles to represent African American hopes.
In Wicca and related forms of Paganism, the candle is frequently used on the altar to represent the presence of God and Goddesses, and in the four corners of a ritual circle to represent the presence of the four classical elements: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. When used in this manner, lighting and extinguishing the candle marks the opening and closing of a ritual. The candle is also frequently used for magical meditative purposes.
Candles are a traditional part of Buddhist ritual observances. Along with incense and flowers, candles are placed before Buddhist shrines or images of the Buddha as a show of respect. They may also be accompanied by offerings of food and drink. The light of the candles is described as representing the light of the Buddha’s teachings, echoing the metaphor of light used in various Buddhist scriptures.
In almost all Hindu homes, lamps are lit daily and sometimes every day before the altar of the Lord. In some houses, the lamps or candles are lit at dawn, in some twice a day at dawn and dusk. A diya, or clay lamp, is frequently used in Hindu celebrations and forms an integral part in many social rites. It is a strong symbol of enlightenment and prosperity. In its traditional and simplest form, the diya is made from baked clay or terracotta and holds oil or ghee that is lit via a cotton wick.