What Does The Blue Candle Mean In The Navy?

The tradition of lighting a blue candle in the Navy dates back over a century and carries deep meaning for sailors and their families. The blue candle represents hope, protection, and a way for loved ones to symbolically connect with sailors while they are away at sea defending our country. Lighting a blue candle is a simple yet powerful ritual embraced by generations of Navy families as they eagerly await the safe return of their sailors from deployment.

The blue candle is imbued with symbolism, from its color to the very act of lighting it. Blue represents the vast oceans that Navy ships traverse as well as loyalty, trust, wisdom, and confidence. Keeping a candle burning in the window harkens back to colonial times, when it served as a beacon to guide weary travelers home. For Navy families, the lit candle shines like a lighthouse, a ray of hope piercing the darkness to lead their loved ones back from distant shores. Though the details of its origins are varied, the meaning behind the storied tradition of the Navy’s blue candle remains constant.


The tradition of lighting a blue candle for sailors began during World War II in the 1940s. At that time, many sailors were deployed far from home for extended periods while their loved ones anxiously awaited their return. Lighting a blue candle was a way for families to symbolically keep their sailors close even when they were physically distant.

The original purpose of the blue candle was to remind sailors that they were loved and missed while away at sea. The blue color represented constancy, faithfulness, and remembrance. It was meant to convey the message “I am thinking of you” and provide reassurance that although the sailor was gone, he was not forgotten.

One of the earliest and most notable uses of the blue candle tradition dates back to December 1941 following the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Thousands of sailors shipped out to serve in World War II, leaving their families worried for their safety. Lighting a blue candle each night was a touching way for families to feel connected to their sailors during this difficult time of war.


the blue candle symbolizes vigilance and remembrance

The blue candle holds deep symbolism in the U.S. Navy. It represents vigilance and remembrance for those who have served or currently serve (Navy for Moms). When lit, the blue candle is a solemn reminder to honor sailors who have been lost at sea and to keep hope for those currently deployed.

Blue candles are strongly associated with honoring fallen seamen and sending prayers to those in harm’s way. Lighting a blue candle during holidays or difficult times embodies the spirit of vigilance – remaining alert and attentive to dangers for those who are absent (Chickens in the Road).

The color blue itself also carries deep meaning. In color symbolism, blue represents calm, tranquility, wisdom, and open communication. The blue candle channels the energies of healing, harmony, and flow (The Peculiar Brunette). When lit by navy families, the blue candle radiates these peaceful qualities in remembrance.

Modern Usage

The blue candle continues to play an important symbolic role in various U.S. Navy ceremonies today. One of the most notable uses is during Chief Petty Officer initiation ceremonies, where the blue candle is lit to honor the history and significance of the Chief Petty Officer rank. According to the U.S. Navy’s Chief Recognition Ceremony, the blue candle is lit by the newest Chief Petty Officer selectee while the names of deceased Chief Petty Officers are read aloud. This serves as a solemn reminder of those who have served before them.

The blue candle may also make an appearance during change of command and retirement ceremonies to honor the continuity of leadership and service. Other formal events and celebrations, such as Navy Birthday Balls, may incorporate the blue candle lighting tradition as well. It symbolizes the solidarity, dedication and spirit of the sailors present.

Overall, anytime today’s sailors gather for an official event steeped in Navy heritage, the striking blue candle offers a tangible representation of their membership in an elite force united by history and tradition.

Notable Examples

The blue candle has been used in many solemn naval ceremonies throughout history. According to Chickens in the Road, it is often lit “for sailors separated from their families during the holidays, for sailors in danger far away, or to light a sailor’s way home.”

One of the most famous uses was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt lit a blue candle in the White House window in 1943 while his son Franklin was on a combat mission during World War II. As recounted in Trudon, the president said “I’ll not turn on the tree lights until he comes back.”

The blue candle has special meaning when lit during naval burials at sea. Navy for Moms notes that families often light a blue candle at home when a sailor is going through battle training, “to send your warm wishes, thoughts, and prayers.”

Overall, lighting the blue candle represents hopes for a sailor’s safe return and prayers for those in harm’s way. It is a simple but profound symbol of support within naval tradition.

Burial at Sea

The blue candle plays an important symbolic role during burial at sea ceremonies performed by the US Navy. As explained in the Navy HR article on Burial at Sea, the committal ceremony involves lighting a blue candle near the casket as it is lowered into the sea. This candle remains lit for 24 hours in honor of the deceased sailor’s spirit and service.

The blue candle signifies hope that the loved one’s soul has found peaceful rest, and it connects their service in life to an honored burial at sea. The solemn lighting of the blue candle makes the burial ceremony more meaningful and is a moving Naval tradition to commemorate a fallen sailor’s legacy.

Other Military Branches

While the blue candle tradition originated with the U.S. Navy, some other military branches have adopted similar practices. For example, the U.S. Army has a tradition of lighting white candles to symbolize hope during deployments or when a soldier is away from family (Source). The white candle represents the light of hope burning brightly until the soldier returns home safely.

The U.S. Marine Corps also uses candle lighting traditions, often involving red candles that signify courage. Families light a red candle while a Marine is deployed to symbolize their strength and bravery in the line of duty (Source).

While these other branches have adopted candle lighting rituals, the meaning and prominence of the blue candle tradition seems unique to the Navy. The blue candle’s deep connection to sailors and the sea gives it special significance. The practice highlights the close bonds within the Navy community during challenging separations from loved ones.

Cultural Significance

The blue candle holds deep cultural meaning for those in the Navy, as well as their friends and families. It represents an important naval tradition that honours those who serve their country at sea.

For Navy members, the blue candle is a poignant symbol of the sacrifices they make while away from home. As one sailor shared, “When I’m deployed overseas and see a blue candle in a window, it reminds me that people back home are thinking of us and praying for our safe return.”

Lighting a blue candle is a way for Navy families to feel connected to their loved ones while they are deployed. A Navy wife explained, “The blue candle helps me feel like my husband is still here with us, even when he’s thousands of miles away.” https://chickensintheroad.com/classic/living/a-blue-candle/

When a blue candle is lit, it communicates an unspoken message of solidarity, hope, and pride in the naval service. As one mother of a sailor shared, “That little flame means the world to me. It’s my way of saying I miss you, I love you, and come home safely.”

Recent Changes

The tradition of the blue candle in the Navy has evolved over time to adapt to modern sensibilities. In recent years, some changes have been made to the procedures and meaning behind the candle lighting ceremony.

One of the most significant changes involves expanding the tradition to be more inclusive. Originally, the blue candle was lit by Navy wives or mothers to symbolize their longing for a sailor’s safe return. However, nowadays the ceremony is open to any loved ones of deployed sailors, regardless of gender or relationship status.

There has also been a shift toward giving the candle lighting a more secular meaning, rather than associating it with prayer. The ceremony is now seen as a way for families to show solidarity and hope for their sailors, without any specific religious connotation.

Additionally, the rules for when and where the candle can be lit have been relaxed. It no longer needs to stay lit continuously until the sailor’s return. Families now light the candle during milestone events, like deployments or homecomings, rather than keeping it perpetually lit. This provides more flexibility for modern lifestyles.

While the essence of symbolizing hope and connection remains, the Navy’s blue candle tradition has evolved over time. By adapting the ceremony and meaning to suit contemporary needs, it continues to be an important custom for Navy families during separations.


In summary, the blue candle has a long history of symbolizing support, hope, and solidarity for Navy sailors and their families. Its origins trace back to World War II, when families would keep a candle burning in the window while their loved ones were deployed at sea. The blue color represented the ocean and the constant vigil for sailors’ safe return.

While the exact roots are uncertain, the meaning behind the blue candle remains powerful. Lighting one continues to be a way for Navy families and communities to come together in spirit when sailors are away. It reminds both the families at home and the deployed sailors that they are not forgotten, and that their sacrifices are honored. The gentle flame provides comfort through its constancy and connection to ocean waters.

Though lighting habits may have changed with technology, the blue candle still holds deep significance in Navy culture. It endures as a simple but profound symbol of hope, support, and the unbreakable bonds between sailors, their fellow crewmembers, and their loved ones back home.

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