- 1 1/2 to 2-inch diameter white pillar candle (12 inches or more for congregational use; 8 inches for home)
- Practice candle of similar dimensions
- Paring knife or small woodcarving chisel
- Acrylic paints and small brush
- Patterns for cross, Greek Alpha and Omega letters, other patterns (see Tips below)
- Five whole cloves and small metal skewer OR 5 small upholstery tacks
In several Christian denominations, a tall, decorated pillar candle serves to remind worshippers of scriptural references to Jesus Christ as the light of the world on Easter and during the Easter season. Especially in Roman Catholic and several other traditional denominations, a new candle is lit late on Easter Eve. Parishioners then receive smaller candles lit from this new fire celebrating the Resurrection. An old custom is to carry that light home and light a family candle, to celebrate Easter and also to be lit on the occasion of family baptisms and funerals throughout the year. This candle is called the Paschal candle (Pascal coming from Latin, but also derived from the Hebrew Pesach, which refers to the festival of Passover--another metaphorical example of transformative light destroying darkness). Follow the steps below to make a Paschal candle suitable for congregational or family use.
How to make a paschal candle
Practice your decorations on your practice candle. Paschal candles traditionally have carved symbols on them. Heating the tip of your knife or chisel over a flame, as needed, will let you trace your cross and letter patterns, making the shallow, cuts you need. Practice with your knife until you can make even lines and shave off any resulting drips. If you wish, you can carve more elaborate decorations, such as wheat and grapes or other symbols of renewal.
Carve your decorations on the middle of the candle with your warm knife/chisel. Gently scrape off any resulting drips.
Paint your decorations using a small brush. Traditionally, the cross is red; the Alpha and Omega may be other colors, as may other decorations. Practiced decorators use melted colored waxes or mix oil paint with wax; these might be too challenging for a first effort.
Place whole cloves or small upholstery nails at the four ends of the cross arms and in the center of the cross, to symbolize nails. To do this, heat a small metal skewer over a flame, make a hole, then insert the cloves or tacks (this prevents splits or cracks in the candle).
Place your candle in its stand once decorations have completely dried. For a family candle, you can use a plate or shallow bowl instead of a stand. Some families add to the renewal theme of the candle by surrounding it with spring flowers or greens.
For congregational use, you can find suitable candles in religious supply catalogs. They often are made so they drip very little.
Proceed gently with carving. Wax can crack or split with hard pressure or cutting. Rewarm your knife/chisel rather than pressing down harder to make a line.