How to Plan a Candlelight Vigil: Step-By-Step

This is part of Cake's collection of funeral legacy articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

Published on:

Planning a candlelight vigil can be a special way to honor someone you love. Vigils are a time to bring a small or large group together to pray collectively or just be in each other’s presence for a common purpose. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Candlelight vigils symbolize strong unity and are visually striking. Whether you’ve witnessed one before, or have only seen them on TV or in movies, we’ll help you plan a memorable candlelight vigil of your own.

Even though a vigil may seem simple, they’re a great way to bring peace or healing to the person or topic at hand. 

Step 1: Determine Your Intent

Does someone you love need extra prayers or support? Are they dealing with a hard time, such as a personal or familial illness? Or are you hoping to honor a deceased loved one? Candlelight vigils aren’t for one sole purpose — you can determine their intent. 

Candlelight vigils are about bringing people together, either a collection of your closest friends or even acquaintances that identify with your cause.

For example, you can host a candlelight vigil on a death anniversary of a loved one years after their passing. If you don’t have a particular person in mind, but looking to support a cause such as those with cancer, you can also gather to honor them.  

Step 2: Find the Perfect Location

Finding the right location for a candlelight vigil is perhaps as important as the intent. The location can depend on the number of people invited, accessibility and climate restrictions.

You should try to choose a location that’s significant to the person or cause you’re honoring. Choosing an empty patch of land at the top of a mountain in the middle of winter sounds magical, but may not be practical. Try to choose a space that’s relatively quiet, but easy to access. Not only will this impact attendance, but you don’t want to endanger anyone who has difficulty driving at night. Also keep in mind public transportation options, public parking and offering to carpool.

Reconsider the “candle” option if you live in an area that frequently experiences fires or droughts, as it may be unlawful or dangerous. Check with your local park ranger or environmental branch for any restrictions. You can always opt for electronic candles instead or lights instead. 

Optional places for a candlelight vigil include:

  • Open areas near a church
  • Local parks
  • At a beach or near a lake
  • A parking lot in a quiet area
  • Your backyard or property 
  • Indoor facilities such as auditoriums or banquet halls
Do you know how you want to be remembered?

Let your loved ones know now, just in case. Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and share your choices instantly.

Step 3: Put Together a Guest List

A candlelight vigil depends on people participating. The number of people invited is up to you. Candlelight vigils can be private and intimate — or broadcast publicly on social media. Give your guests ample time to prepare and arrange their schedule, if necessary. 

Keep your guests updated about any expected etiquette and the exact timeline. Candlelight vigils usually don’t last more than a few hours, and it’s up to you whether you’d like it to begin after dark or before sunset. Make it clear if guests can bring others with them, and recommended clothing.

Prioritize communicating with your guests in the event of emergencies or last-minute changes. Consider a group chat if the guest list is small or a Facebook event for a larger guest list.   

Step 4: Decide to Share Messages or Prayers

What you say at a candlelight vigil is up to you. Perhaps you’d like to open it up to guests as well. You can share relevant poems or religious scriptures special to you, or read personal short stories about the person or event you’re honoring. Keeping the vigil completely silent is also an option. You may also choose to read from Christian books about grief or just general books on grief for inspiration as well.

After all, you’re there to honor someone or something special. It’s a great opportunity to open the floor up so you all can reach peace or healing, and work through feelings in a safe space. You can open it up to allow everyone to speak, or you can allow for “popcorn” speaking, where people chime in if and when they feel comfortable.

You can prepare a speech, similar to a eulogy, or you can speak from your heart spontaneously. If you’re unsure what to say, consider these ideas for sympathy messages to get some inspiration.

Step 5: Gather Necessary Supplies

To offset costs, ask guests to bring a candle of their own. But be prepared with extra candles and lighters to help other participants. You can also consider making wax catchers out of paper plates.

Bring a waste bin with you in the event that you’re not in an area already equipped with them. Additionally, bringing a fire extinguisher would be great to alleviate any anxiety over worst-case scenarios.

Other Things to Consider When Planning

What else should you think about when planning a candlelight vigil? It may already be in your nature to expect the worst. Or, you may need some help thinking about potential hiccups. What about rain or other inclement weather? What if your guests get lost? 

Create solid backup plan to meet at an alternate meeting location. If you’re planning a vigil during a rainy or dry season, see if there’s a large meeting hall or auditorium you can use. If you’re having a vigil at a popular public place, make sure you’re not planning it to coincide with an outdoor concert or food truck event. 

Keep your guests updated on weather conditions and recommend extra layers or protection like an umbrella or jacket. They’ll appreciate the note. If everyone is as comfortable as possible, it’ll make it much easier to focus on the person or topic at hand. 

Ideas for Unique Candlelight Vigils

In addition to or instead of candles at the vigil you’re planning, do you want to include something to shake it up? Depending on the tone of your event, you can make it unique to the person or cause you’re honoring. Keep your guests in the know and offer up ideas to try.

Consider a few of these ideas:

  • Ask guests to dress in glow-in-the-dark clothing and hand out glow sticks
  • Incorporate paper lanterns or light-up balloons and release them as a group
  • Play spiritual music or personal favorites of the person you’re honoring
  • Plan a short nature walk with your guests, as long as the area has safe and easy terrain
  • Incorporate hot beverages or on-the-go snacks for your guests
  • Have guests bring chairs or blankets so that you all can sit comfortably
  • Bring outdoor sound equipment, a projector to show pictures or a film about the person or cause you’re honoring

What Guests Should Bring to a Candlelight Vigil

It’s not poor etiquette to ask your guests to bring things with them to a vigil. Make sure that your expectations make sense and are clearly outlined in the event page or invitation. You should encourage them to dress appropriately, and request them to bring a folding chair or blanket to sit on.

You can also encourage them to bring beverages or snacks to share. If you’re in a pinch, ask some of your close friends to supply some candles and lighters, but overall come prepared to give out candles to participants. If you’re short, people can use flashlights or even their phones to participate.

What to Say at a Candlelight Vigil

In addition to planning a specific speech or list of readings at a vigil, you may have some sort of procedure you’d like to follow in terms of candle lighting and extinguishing. You can create a schedule or guidelines to share with your guests.

Do you want everyone to light their candle when they arrive, or all at once? Do you want one person to light their candle, and then pass the flame along through the crowd? These are all things to consider. Your vigil can be as structured or as casual as you please. 

It’s a Group Effort

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of planning a candlelight vigil, remember, it’s a group effort. Let your guests help out by spreading the word or gathering supplies. In the event of bad weather or other issues, you can reschedule. Unlike memorial services, candlelight vigils can be low-cost if you use materials you already have, and they can be planned for just about any day.

When it comes to services to honor people and causes, there’s no such thing as “perfect.” Even if you only gather a few people for a short time and throw an impromptu vigil, that can be just as special as something you planned for months.