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What are Votive Candles?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Votive candles are small cylindrical candles about 2.5 inches (6cm) in height and 1.5 inches (4cm) in diameter. They melt into oil when lit, which requires them be burned in small glasses or cups made for this purpose.

Traditionally, votive candles were white and unscented, associated with religious ceremonies. Votives in red or clear glass holders are often found in Catholic churches at the feet of statues. These are often lit in prayer, usually made for a specific purpose.

Today, these candles are sold for a variety of purposes and come in many colors, both scented and unscented. Their long-burning strong flames give off a pleasant glow and votive glasses make the candles fairly safe compared to taper or pillar candles that can be knocked over.

Votive candles are made from paraffin or wax, but there are different grades of paraffin with different melting points. Often paraffin is mixed with other types of waxes like beeswax or vegetable wax. This is done to obtain the rigidity necessary for the type of candle being made. Depending on the quality of wax used, a candle may burn very fast or very slow. It may have a low melting point and produce little to no oil, such as a taper candle that sits in a candle holder "ring," or it may have a very low melting point and turn to oil, as with votives that sit in glass cups. Pillar candles, large candles often with multiple wicks, have their own formula. Candle quality also varies widely depending on the candle maker.

Aside from birthday candles, the only "official" category of candles smaller than votive candles are tealight candles. These candles, about 1.5 inches (4cm) high and 1 inch (3cm) in diameter come in their own little tin cups and normally burn about 5 hours. Like votives, they also turn to oil when burning and do not leave behind melted wax, but burn away clean.

Votive candles can be purchased virtually anywhere from the grocery store to import emporiums. They are handy to have on hand in case of a power outage because they burn slowly and flames are protected by their glass holders. However, when the candle is burning, the glass cup gets very hot and can easily burn a bare hand. If the hot oil should spill it could cause severe burning. Therefore, these candles are best left to sit in place once lit. A scented votive can add not only a nice glow, but a wonderful aroma to any home.

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Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Jun 23, 2011

I enjoy changing the decorations on my fireplace mantle as the seasons change, but I most always have some type of candles there. One of my favorite decorations is a large metal floral display which holds several votive candles and holders.

The sad thing is, I just use this as a display and have never even lit the candles! When I think about it I have several votive candles throughout my house that I have never lit.

The ones around the bathtub are the exception though. There is nothing more relaxing than a bubble bath surrounded with some scented candles.

By honeybees — On Jun 22, 2011

Several votive candles can quickly change the atmosphere of any room. If you are looking for an economical way to add a romantic touch, you can't go wrong with votive candles. This does not have to cost you a lot of money, and if you keep them in glass containers you don't have to worry as much about the safety factor.

If I am burning votive candles at home, I always buy the scented ones. But if you are looking to light a larger area, it may be cheaper to buy the unscented votive candles.

I have been to many wedding receptions where a votive candle is sitting in the middle of each table on a mirror, which helps reflect the light. This is a simple and beautiful way to decorate.

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