Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle is what the French might say about English 'cuisine'. It means 'not worth a candle', and implies English food is so lacking in appeal that it's not worth using a candle to create sufficient light to see it. 'Not worth a candle' can be used to deride anything; an object, person, activity, which we want to say is worthless. Even though a candle is so cheap, using it would nevertheless be a waste of money.
Yet even though candles are cheap, we use them on very special occasions. Take for example....
A popular candle arrangement for wedding celebrations is a dozen or so small candles organized in the shape of a heart. The heart has long been a symbol of love, and a candle heart layout gives a special warmth.
During some wedding ceremonies, the mothers of the bride and groom reverently light two small candles, which the bride and groom then use to light a single larger candle. The couple carrying the flame from their mothers' lights and merging them into a single light, symbolizes the joining of the two families (Gen. 2:24). The lighting also invokes the light of Christ and this Light will guide the couple through their married life together (John 8:12).
In contrast to the bride's veil and wedding rings, the so called Unity Candles are not an ancient Pagan or Christian rite; rather a relatively modern idea which has increased popularity over the past fifty years or so.
At about 13 lumens of visible light and 40 watts of heat, the candle is well-suited for representing married life. It is ignited by the heat of another flame, just as the bride and groom's wedding is celebrated by their families and friends.
As the candle wick is lit, it first melts and then vaporizes a small amount of the candle wax fuel. Once vaporized, the fuel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a flame. This flame then provides sufficient heat to keep the candle burning via a self-sustaining chain of events: the heat of the flame melts the top of the mass of solid fuel, the liquefied fuel then moves upward through the wick via capillary action, and the liquefied fuel is then vaporized to burn within the candle's flame. Once a couple begin married life together, they can enjoy sustaining each other through the rest of their married lives.
Candle wicks sometimes need trimming. Similarly, marriages sometimes need external help to overcome difficulties. The wedding ceremony is attended by families and friends who will be there for such assistance.
Another advantage of candles is that they can be stored for a lifetime. The couple may decide to retain the main candle after the wedding (and the two smaller candles if they are part of a set) and light them during wedding anniversary dinners.
Candles are lit by Christians, especially Catholics and Orthodox Christians, to support a prayer. "Light a candle for me" is asking somebody to pray for me as I go through some particularly difficult experience. "Light a candle for my grandmother who has just passed away" asks somebody to pray for the grandmother's soul.
Such a request may just be a figure of speech, and not intended to imply that merely lighting a candle will have the slightest difference on the fate of somebody's soul, any more than dropping coins into a collection box in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Such a belief is superstition, and belongs to the same class as tossing coins into a wishing well for luck, which stems from the Pagan symbolic sacrifice to water deities.
A Latin word pertaining to a vow and conforming to one's wishes, is votivus. Therefore when a lighted candle is used as something bright, warm and tangible to focus on in the act of prayer, it is called a Votive Candle. This is the real reason for lighting a candle. Not superstition, but as a meditative aid.
Votive candles are ideal for arranging in different formations - a Votive Candle Cross for example. Alternatively, a small candle might be held in a cross-shaped candle holder. The votive candle gives life and brightness to a cross. (See also Rising Sun Cross and Glory Cross.)
In contrast to the votive candles, which are tiny, the Paschal Candle is huge. Sometimes called Easter Candle, this is lit in a darkened church at the beginning of Easter and remains lit throughout the Easter period. The light represents the light of Christ coming into the dark world. (It is also sometimes lit at baptisms and funerals.) A nicely decorated Pascal Candle, perhaps 10 cm wide and 1.5 metres high (4" x 60" for the metrically challenged) might burn for a week or so. Some can cost several hundred dollars but most are much less and many are made by the congregation.
A cross, typically Latin or Greek, might be incorporated into the design. The example on the left is a Teutonic Cross and the numerals for the current year appear in the quadrates. (See the page in the Book of Divine Worship for details.)
Other adornments might include nails, representing the five wounds of Christ, Agnus Dei, figures representing the Evangelists, and so on.
There are variations around the world. Sean Wright tells us that in his Roman Catholic church:
"The Paschal Candle is carried into a darkened church during the Easter Vigil celebrations conducted on the evening of Holy Saturday, lit from a new fire begun in a pan in the vestibule or outside the front of the church. The deacon or priest carrying the Candle pauses three times as he makes his way into the darkened church to chant 'Light of Christ' to which the congregation chants 'Thanks be to God'.
After coming to the sanctuary, the Paschal Candle is placed in its holder and incensed. Following this a chant, the beautiful Exultet, the Easter Proclamation, is sung.
The candle remains in the sanctuary throughout Paschaltide until Pentecost Sunday. It is lit for every Mass celebrated during this time. After Pentecost, it is used at funeral liturgies throughout the year, placed at the foot of the coffin.
Before liturgical changes in the late 1960s the Paschal Candle, a symbol of the Risen Christ, was extinguished on Ascension Thursday during Mass, immediately following the Gospel reading of Jesus ascending into heaven. After the final Mass of the day the candle and its stand were removed from the sanctuary. The loss of this symbolism is regrettable".
Christians also use candles during Advent, on the Altar, at Baptisms, in the Sanctuary, at vigils, and other sacramentals. They even have a special ceremony called Candlemas 40 days after Christmas when celebrations are held to commemorate the presentation of baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22–40). At Candlemas, candles are blessed with holy water for their use in the coming year.
Christianity is not the only religion to use candles. Jews light a candle at the beginning and end of the Sabbath. A special candle is lit on Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust. The Menorah was used with the tabernacle and its seven-branch design dictated by God to Moses (Exod. 25:31-40). The Hanukkah reminds us of the miracle where lamp fuel sufficient for one day lasted for eight days, which gave enough time to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
Buddhists place candles in front of images to represent the light of the Buddha's teachings. In Thailand, huge elaborately carved candles are paraded through the streets during their Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival.
Hindus similarly consider the candle to be representative of spiritual enlightenment and yogis might use a candle as a meditation aid.