When people say a wedding is “all in the details,” they’re not wrong.
But as an accomplished wedding photographer who has documented a LOT of weddings, I can tell you they’re NOT just talking about themed place cards, centerpieces, and favors.
We’re also talking about functional details: the kind of stuff that’s vital to the wedding’s actual operation.
Which is why, even though I’m the photographer, not the torch-bearer, I always bring a dedicated lighter with me when I know there will be a unity candle.
Because actually, there is no dedicated torch bearer at a wedding. Which is probably why it’s so persistently a problem: If something isn’t any one person’s responsibility, it often tends to be no one’s responsibility.
But speaking of:
To kick off this episodic series on unsung but vital wedding-day details, let’s start at the beginning:
In the beginning there was darkness.
And God said, Let There Be Light.
I couldn’t agree more.
But let’s put this in more immediate terms:
Who’s planning a unity candle for their wedding? Raise your hands.
Now use that same hand to search around for an extra lighter.
Now check your watch: How long is it taking you to find one?
Finally got one?
Now imagine everyone at your wedding waiting that same length of time while one of your guests has to run around looking for something to light it with.
Now, I can already hear you trying to reassure yourself:
“But the candles are brand-new…”
“But the candles are in hurricane lanterns…”
“But there’s no wind inside the barn where the ceremony will be…”
But I’m here to say: But nothing.
Easily one-half of all the unity candles at all the weddings I’ve photographed have failed to light as planned.
I’ve seen freshly lit candles somehow go out in the time it takes for the ring bearer and the flower girl or the mothers of the groom and bride to walk from the first row of seats to the altar.
Then the just-in-case lighter fails.
Then the venue’s backup lighter is handed up to the altar, but click and click and click and still no flame happening.
At one wedding I photographed a couple of seasons ago, I remember that the bride’s and groom’s mothers’ individual candles somehow mutually extinguished the already-lit, protected feeder candle they were trying to light their candles from. And the ceremony was inside a cement-walled building.
I’ll say it again:
The feeder candle was pre-lit.
Inside a hurricane glass.
Inside a building.
So no wind.
Someone at the venue literally had to run around and eventually found a lighter someplace, but I can tell you that, standing right by the mothers as they stood up at the altar, in front of all of their family, holding dead candles, it felt like an eternity.
Now, obviously there’s a reason why people at concerts (remember those?) hold up phones these days instead of lighters:
Fewer of us are smoking these days. Which is good for our health.
But bad for weddings. ‘Cause you can’t light a unity candle with a cellphone.
That doesn’t mean we need to eschew the spark-giving friendliness of our old friends flint and friction, however:
Bridesmaid dresses have pockets now. (And groomsmen: Seriously guys, don’t just stand there in formation—y’all were toking on celebratory cigars out back just a few minutes ago. Don’t tell me none of you guys has a Zippo or a Bic or even a matchbook in a pocket somewhere.)
Besides, there are other things a bride and groom can combine at the altar:
Differently colored sand is popular.
I’ve also seen chocolate-chip-cookie ingredients get mixed in a mason jar.
One time I even saw a couple create a beer blend from two different bottles, then share a sip from the customized pint glass.
Don’t get me wrong: There is, of course, something uniquely peaceful, timeless, and ceremonial about a candle flame, so don’t let me dissuade you.
In which case, go for it.
But my advice?
If you’re going to go for it, Go big: Get lots of lighters.
Need 3 good reasons for that?
1. Even high-quality lighters are relatively inexpensive.
2. Customized with initials, lighters double as great groomsmen or bridesmaid gifts. (Obviously you’ll want to have them fueled ahead of time. And encourage the wedding party to carry them in their pockets to the ceremony.)
3. Lighters are also the best way I’ve seen to light sparklers, should your wedding sendoff feature those.
Pro tip: Use a butane torch-type lighter such as the one pictured, rather than a Bic-type lighter that produces a traditional flame. Here’s why: Multiple-torch-type lighters—often used for cigars—burn hot, so they’re the fastest, most reliable way to light sparklers. That speed becomes a significant issue when you’re trying to light a long double row of too-short sparklers held by wedding guests: Too often, I’ve seen guests’ sparklers burn out at the front end of the row before the people at the back end of the row have even gotten their sparklers lit.
Which I can tell you—speaking purely as a wedding photographer for a moment—doesn’t quite produce the visual effect you were hoping for when you imagined a sparkler sendoff.
So, Pro Tip #2: Stock up on long sparklers (often available only around the Fourth of July) long before the wedding. Why, you ask? Because they’re flammable, they can’t always be shipped by online retailers.
Which leads us finally to:
Pro Tip #3: Mark your calendars. For the wedding, of course, but also for July 5. Which is when sparklers tend to go on sale at a steep discount. Remember: The longer the sparkler, the better.
So to sum up:
Definitely let there be unity candles.
Definitely let there be light.
Definitely let there be extra light too.
From lots of extra lighters.
Just in case.
To make sure that light stays lit.