Many do not realize it, but the candle is possibly one of the most important historical artifacts we have.  The humble candle lit the night up until electricity.  Sourcing Nova wants to spend this article talking about the candle, various uses symbolic candles and what colors may stand for.  Enjoy your reading.

Take some wax, beeswax or petroleum based paraffin wax and a piece of string running down the center.  Add a bit of color and fragrance if you like.  Use a flame source, and light the string.  You have created a candle and successfully provided the basic light used by people for thousands of years.


The actual inventor of the candle is lost to history, although we have examples of candles dating back to about 200 B.C. in China.


Besides lighting the night for personal use and to let travelers know of the safe place ahead, the candle has strong symbolism across the world and in several different manifestations.  Sourcing Nova has covered most of them for you.  Enjoy your read.


Candle symbolism

Today’s candles are not so much symbolic as they are used for aesthetic reasons.  People today burn candles for the scent, because they like candles or enjoy the soft light and flicker a candle provides.  Some candles are used for decorative purposes and never burned at all.

This does not mean candles do not have a history and deep symbolic usage.  In fact, candles are steeped in rich history with symbolism and in religious rites.


Candles in The Jewish faith


The Menorah Candle

In the Jewish faith, candles are very important for the Menorah.  The Menorah is possibly the most recognized symbol of the Jewish faith.  It represents when Judah Maccabee and his warriors took back the Holy Temple at Jerusalem.  As part of the dedication, they lit a small amount of oil that lasted a miraculous eight nights in total.  Today, as  part of the Hanukkah celebration, the people of the Jewish faith light candles for eight nights.  One special candle, the shamash, is used nightly to light the other candles.


Shabbat Candle

The Jewish faith has a day of rest on Saturdays.  Shabbat, or Sabbath as it may be known, is a time when the people of the Jewish faith are not to light fires but candles are acceptable.  The candles are lit before sundown and placed near where the evening meal will take place.


Candles in The Christian faith


The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is part of the Christian faith.  The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches (pine branches) with four or five candles.  Each candle represents an element of Jesus Christ, the most important figure in Christianity.  More specifically, each advent candle has its own meaning:


  • 1st candle – A purple candle of hope
  • 2nd candle – A purple candle of preparation
  • 3rd candle – A pink candle of rejoicing
  • 4th candle – A purple candle of love
  • 5th candle – Not all wreaths have a 5th candle, a white one, for Jesus Christ


The wreath began in 16th century Germany to put more focus on Christmas than on Advent – the period of the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and runs through Christmas Eve, the 24th.


Votive Candles


Some denominations of the Christian faith, Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, often burn small white or yellow candles called votive candles.  These candles represent prayers sent as a part of the faith.


Paschal Candles


The same three denominations, Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, use Paschal candles.  These are very large, white candles lit on Easter and again through the Easter season.  The Paschal candle is also used for special events: baptisms and funerals in particular.


Candles For the Dead


Candles have always been used for rituals and rites in various religions.

  • Catholics – Light candles on All Saints Day, November 1st, for remembrance of those loved ones who have passed on.
  • Protestants – Another group of the Christian faith who light candles to remember lost family members.
  • Judaism – The Jewish people use candles for funerals in two ways: the Sitting Shiva, a part of the funeral rites and again for the Yahrtzeit, the one year anniversary of the death.
  • Buddhism – Candles, often seen with food, drink, flowers and incense are a sign of spiritual life and the teachings of the Buddha.
  • Wicca – This Pagan faith uses candles to remember their dead loved ones and to harness natural energy.

Candles are not always limited strictly to religious rites and purposes.  Candles can serve as symbols in other ways as well.


-Candles as symbols outside of religion


 – Unity Candle


In some wedding ceremonies, there will be three candles for a unity candle ceremony.  The unity candle set consists of three candles: on each side of a larger candle will be two separate ones, with each representing the family of the bride and one for the groom.  The two each take the candle symbolizing their family and light the middle candle.  This represents the ending of two families and the start of a new one.


– Birthday Candles


For children, a birthday is something to celebrate.  Many celebrate birthdays with three things: gifts, ice cream and a cake.  The cake is normally adorned with small candles of about 7.6 cm (three inches) with a small wick.  The number of candles on the cake corresponds to the child’s birthday.  Candles are lit, and the child has the opportunity to blow them out – usually in a single breath.  After this, the cake is shared with the party guests.


 – Burning The Candle At Both Ends


This an idiom in English that means when you are working on something very hard with very little time to rest, eat or sleep.  The idea is the candle burning at both ends means time is going much faster, so you have to try and get more done.

This idiom also has the idea of failure because you are doing too much at one time as well.

“Joe was burning the candle at both ends trying to work three jobs to support his family.”


– Can’t Hold A Candle To


Another common English idiom, it refers to someone who is exceptionally capable at a skill or task to the point no one else is as good or can compete.

“The young man was so fast that you can’t hold a candle to him in a race.”


 – Candle Flame Meaning


The flames on the candle can also have some special meanings.  Since all candles burn differently, each flame can carry a separate and different symbolic meaning.

  • Blue flame – A spirit is present – perhaps a fairy or angel
  • Red or yellow flame – Mundane, common energy not spiritual
  • Tall and strong – Good for spells as the tall flame pushes through and reaches heights
  • Flicker – Signs of energy and potentially chaos


– Candle In The Window


Long ago when someone would leave home and well before the advent of electricity, a candle was put into the window as a reminder.  Candles also went into windows for travelers to see the light and recognize a place accepting of travelers with friendship and hospitality.


 – Canding Eggs


Besides symbolism, candles serve an important purpose for the egg farming industry.  Starting in a dark room, an individual egg would be held up in front of a candle. The porous nature of the egg shell allows light to go through it.  The inside of the egg is then visible.

Specifically, the purpose of egg candling is to check on the health of the egg and the animal growing inside of it.  In the U.S., candling chicken eggs is a common and required practice for selling eggs in regular markets and grocery stores.

– How to candle eggs

Hold the egg closely up to the light.  Look for the air cell, yolk, white, blood and meat spots.  In the case of blood and meat, the eggs cannot be sold for human consumption.

This task was originally done with an actual candle, although today specialized lights are used for egg candling.  If you are wondering when to candle eggs, it is best to do it within 72 hours of being laid by the hen.


 – Candle Color Meanings


The original candles were white because there were little ways to dye wax, and dye was very expensive and would not be wasted on candles.  As dying technology progressed, the ability to color candles became more and more prevalent.  Today candle color does have some symbolic meaning.

Candle color is common within certain circles of magic, rituals and types of homeopathic treatment.  Here are the primary candle colors and what they represent.

  • Red candle meaning – Passion, sexual energy, courage and vitality
  • Blue candle meaning – Meditation, healing, forgiveness and communication
  • White candle meaning – No negative energy, peace and truth
  • Purple candle meaning – Wisdom and tranquility
  • Lavender candle meaning – Intuition, peace and healing
  • Green candle meaning – Money, luck, abundance and health
  • Rose and pink candle meaning – Self love, friendship and joy
  • Yellow candle meaning – Confidence, thoughts into action and mental clarity
  • Orange candle meaning – Strength, energy, education and stimulation
  • Black candle meaning – Protection, absorb negative energy and repel negative energy
  • Silver candle meaning – Female empowerment and remove negativity
  • Gold candle meaning – Male empowerment, solar energy and positive fortune


Sourcing Nova hopes you have learned some of what a candle can symbolize across many religions and cultures in the world.  There are many varieties of candles although how the candle works is exactly the same.


Taper candle


The original candle that most people think of when they see a candle is a taper or pillar candle.  The original taper candle was made by suspending a string with a weight on the bottom and dipped into hot, melted wax.  The wax would dry, and the string would be dipped into the wax again.  The process would continue until the candle was an appropriate width.  Several candles could be dipped at one time, making multiple candles possible.


In the early 1800’s, an inventor, Joseph Morgan, created a machine that injected wax into molds, thus mechanizing how to make taper candles.  A piston would push the completed candle out, and the process would repeat.  Morgan’s process increased production of the taper candle to around 1,500 candles per hour – up considerably from the original methods of candle making.


If you are considering making and selling taper candles or making them for personal use, two cm (about one inch) of candle will burn per hour.  This will provide you a basis for length you wish a candle to burn.


Curiously, candles burn time was also used as a primitive alarm clock.  Nails were placed into the sides of the candle at specific lengths.  When the candle burned to that point, the nail would fall out, making a sound and alerting someone to the specific time.


Votive candle


Votive candles are small, white or yellow and usually in an aluminum holder.  They are very common in certain Christian religious ceremonies as the candles are lit for prayer purposes.


The small size of the votive candle does not burn for a great deal of time.  You can expect a votive candle to burn approximately for three hours before the wax is consumed.


Jar candle


These are the most common commercially sold candles and easiest candle to make for those who make candles as a hobby.  The jar candle is ideal because the wax that is not burnt stays in the jar, keeping the wax and potential mess contained neatly.   The large variety of jar sizes, shapes and volumes also make jars ideal for candle making.


Jar candles, by their nature, are safer since the flame is contained.  This does not mean caution is not necessary, but in the case of a wick falling over, the flame stays in the jar.


How does a candle burn


A fire requires three things: a source of ignition, fuel and oxygen.  The original ignition source was striking flint for a spark.  Later on wooden matches were used, and today most candles are lit with a butane lighter.


Once the candle is lit, the fuel is a combination of the wick and the wax.  The wax is pulled up the wick with capillary action, and the wax and wick collectively burn, creating light and a small amount of heat.


Chemical change


To speak a bit more scientifically, the candle wax is a carbon and hydrogen molecule – a hydrocarbon.  Hydrocarbons burn, some of the wax, when it reaches between 55 and 94 C (130 to 200 F), melts into a liquid.  This is when the capillary action takes place, with some of the wax pulling up and into the wick.  As long as there is wax, the flame will continue to burn.


Physical change


The heat created by the flame melts the wax.  The wax will re-solidify as it cools.  This is the physical change that takes place when a candle burns.


Heat produced


A candle produces about 80 watts, 270 btu/hour.  Additionally, it takes approximately 58 watts to heat a room that is 305 m3.


Source of candle wax


The original candles were made from 100 percent natural materials, chiefly beeswax as this was the only wax available at the time, and bees provided valuable honey as a sweetener.  Today, there are many different wax types one can use to make candles.




The vast majority of candles made today are made from paraffin wax, a product of petroleum manufacturing.


Paraffin is a preferred candle making wax because it is inexpensive, takes color and fragrances well and works in all sorts of candle styles from tapers to jar candles.




A newcomer in the candle making industry, soy wax is made from the soy bean, one of the most versatile plants in the world.  Soy wax burns longer than paraffin and is cleaner since it is not made from petroleum.  Soy is vegetarian or vegan lifestyle friendly, which can be a powerful selling niche in selling candles.




The use of gel is very recent in many applications from ink pens to candles.  Candles which use gel are made of 95 percent mineral oil and five percent polymer resin.  The result is a solid substance akin to gelatin dessert and is clear.


Fragrances and colors are easily added to gel for candles.  Gel also has the added advantage of density – candle makers using gel can opt for low, medium and high densities.  The different densities change the physical burn of the candle as well as how well the candles can hold fragrances.  In other words, how long the candle will last before replacement, the amount and duration of the fragrance.


Candle safety


Using candles is a great way to create a certain ambiance in a room, provide some gentle fragrance and just pleasant to do on occasion.  However, caution is necessary when using candles.  After all, you have an exposed, unprotected flame that could start a serious fire.  Here are the tips to remember when using a candle.


Never burn a candle completely


There are plenty of us who want to pinch pennies and save money any way we can.  Burning a candle all the way down and for too long is not one that should be attempted.


A candle that is burned completely is a serious fire hazard.  Wax acts as a buffer between the flame and environment.  Burning too low, the flame can ignite debris and start a blaze.  Jar candles burnt all the way down can possibly shatter.  The best rule of thumb is when the candle gets down to about one cm (½ inch) is to stop burning the candle and throw it away.  Better yet, thrown the wax into your wax pot for more candles later if you are making your own.


Keep a candle wick trimmed neatly to about 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) for the best and safest burning results.  Longer wicks make longer flames and create soot.  The latter of which can leave ugly stains on ceilings and parts of the home.



Final Thoughts

 As you can see, the candle has quite a bit to it from the humble beginnings of simple lighting the night to its rich symbolism in faith and secular meaning.  However, we at Sourcing Nova want to know if there is anything we have not covered about candles you may be interested in knowing.  Let us know in a comment below.