An older woman lighting a candle


Written by Matt Frazer


The burning of funeral candles has been linked with death and the dead from ancient times. Throughout history, mankind has developed such customs to express grief, comfort the living, and honor the dead. Today, customs performed after a person dies utilize funeral candles. Their use crosses different cultures and different religions.


Here are some examples of funeral candle customs:

  • Catholics light votive candles on All Souls’ Day in memory of the faithful departed.
  • Jews burn a lamp for 24 hours every year on the anniversary of the death of a loved one.
  • Japanese celebrate the Feast of Lanterns.
  • During a Chinese funeral, a wake is held for several days. Family members keep an overnight vigil for at least one night in which the person’s picture, flowers, and funeral candles are placed around the body and the family sits in wait.
  • A perpetual light burns on Christ’s tomb in the church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem.
  • Mexican culture embraces death as a part of life, and for Mexican Americans, it is still important for them to say goodbye to their loved ones. Their customs call for elaborate funerals, long periods of mourning, and family members bringing funeral candles to church to light at the altar for nine days following a death.

From the roots of civilization, funerals and candles have existed. Even the word funeral itself was derived from the Latin word funus, meaning “torch.” It was believed that torches and lights at a funeral could guide the departed soul to its eternal abode. Lamps were used and were considered an aid the dead to find their way through the darkness. Later, the flickering light of a funeral candle was symbolic of human life.


Originally, however, candles, torches, and lights near a corpse or grave served a completely different purpose. Above all, they were a relic from the days when fires were lit around the dead to frighten away supernatural evil beings anxious to reanimate the corpse and take possession of it. Their domain was darkness and they were afraid of the light. The burning of funeral candles was to prevent the ghosts from returning to haunt the survivors.


Today, funeral directors report that they will use funeral candles in more than 40% of their funerals. This number is expected to increase as awareness of personalization options increase as well. Now, a funeral candle can be more than a simple votive. Funeral software enables the funeral professional to create candles with photos of the person who has passed away, add psalms or other special text, the person’s name, dates of birth and death and/or any other images or text they wish. The options are endless.


Download Tribute Center for free to create personalized funeral candles and other mementos for the families you serve!