Lighting up the Darknessby L-Johnson
Candles are used for many specials occasions in our lives such as birthdays, Christmas, and Hanukkah for example. Candles are even lit at funerals and placed near the casket (or remains) as a simple way to honor the dead. They are also lit in memory of the dead on the anniversary of their death. They add a touch of peace and tranquility to funeral proceedings with each guest lighting one in memory of the dearly departed. It’s a nice way to pay your respects as you say your final farewells.
But why candles? The word funeral is derived from funis, Latin for “torch”. The general practice used to be to bury at night by torchlight. Even long after this practice ended, torches or candles were carried in the funeral procession and were placed near the body from moment of death to time of burial. The torches are believed to scare off evil spirits or demons from the now helpless deceased, or from a person who’s dying with a candle by their bedside. A Jewish custom is to keep a lit candle for a week in the room where a person died, perhaps to purify the air. (In American folklore, however, a candle burning in an empty room will cause the death of a loved one.)
These days you can get personalized funeral candles that bear a photo of the departed along with a poem or a prayer. Some personalized candles can be embellished with pearls, lace, and other decorations. Symbolically, the lighted torch is an emblem of life, and extinguished, as of death. Poets and lyricists have compared the flame, blown out by winds of fate, to the uncertainty of human life.