The tradition of lighting candles for loved ones who have passed away goes back thousands of years and remains a strong tradition even in the age of modern technology. Memorial candles often have religious significance, though all religions do not have specific traditions involving them, and the practice of lighting candles in honour of the deceased is not always part of any religious observance.
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The Jewish memorial candle, or Yahrzeit candle, is lit for 24 hours on Yahrzeit, the Hebrew anniversary of a loved one's death. These candles are also burnt for Yizkor, a memorial service observed four times a year during Yom Kippur, Passover, Shemini Atzeret and Shavout, as well as on Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day that falls annually between mid-April and early May on the Roman calendar. The Yahrzeit candle is usually a votive-style candle encased in glass, and it will burn for at least 24 hours nonstop.
In the Catholic Christian tradition, sacramental memorial candles are lit together in a chapel for remembrance. Candles are traditionally lit on All Saints Day on November 1st and stay lit continually for a full year. Family members usually make an offering to have the candles, usually tall and glass-encased, placed and maintained.
Candles are also often burnt at Catholic burial sites in memory of the deceased. These may be tall glass or plastic votive candles placed inside a remembrance light fixture that protects the candle from the weather. These candles are designed to burn for seven days. More modern solar-powered remembrance candles may also be placed at a grave stone, both in the Catholic tradition and by families of other faiths.
Pagan Ritual Candles
Candles are lit for the dead in the Pagan tradition for remembrance, rebirth and transition. White candles, in pillar or human figure form, are lit, and candles of red, black and/or brown may be lit as well. In addition to lighting candles as part of a memorial ceremony, candles are lit on Samhain on November 1st. Some Pagan families also keep an altar with candles to remember loved ones and ancestors.
While the candlelight vigil has its roots in Judeo-Christianity, it has modern secular applications as well. Memorial vigils may be held to honour fallen soldiers, those who have died of diseases such as AIDS or cancer, victims of terrorism or war, individual victims of murder, or victims of tragic accidents. Taper candles are commonly used for vigils, with a bobeche of paper, glass, metal or plastic attached to catch drips of wax.
Wedding Memorial Candles
A candle may be lit during a wedding, regardless of religious affiliation, to remember a loved one during the ceremony. Wedding memorial candles are often large, personalised pillars, though they may be any type of candle.
Many websites offer virtual memorial candles, for free or for charitable donation, to honour loved ones. Candles—animated gifs of flickering flame—are usually "lit" along with a verse and/or photo and may be on a page or site devoted to one person or among virtual candles for other people.
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