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I was recently invited to a bar mitzvah celebration and mention was made of a “candle lighting ceremony”. I’d never heard of such a thing, and Google turns up pretty vague references.

Which segments of the world Jewish community practice this ceremony, and what are the origins of this practice?

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Note: I rather suspect this is a particularly non-Orthodox practice, but this should still be within this site’s scope. –  J. C. Salomon May 2 '13 at 3:23
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I saw this once, but I don't know the background. They had several (I think seven?) guests they wanted to honor who were each asked to light one candle in a candelabra. This was at the party (after Shabbat), not in shul. I was a little puzzled but I wasn't close to the people and didn't get around to asking about it. –  Monica Cellio May 2 '13 at 3:26
    
Seen it as well (at a Reform bat mitzva). It's something someone decided would be fun and quasi-meaningful. –  Shalom May 2 '13 at 10:20

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This ceremony is an American phenomena, it was invented by caterers and is the only of many creative ceremonies to have "stuck" from the early days of American Bar Mitzvah celebrations in ceremonial halls. You will find it across the spectrum of Jewish groups (including some Orthodox) but will generally only find it in ceremonial halls and not in synagogues or temples.

As I suspected this custom seems to have its origins in the birthday cake.

Many caterers, presenting themselves as religious specialists, expanded their repertoire to include ritual matters, not just culinary ones... "There is a march, the bringing in of the Bar Mitzvah cake the lighting of thirteen candles, or of fourteen-one for luck..." Invented from whole cloth (or cake), this affecting ritual transformed a widely performed activity-cutting a birthday cake-into a quasi-sacred event.

Joselit, Jenna Weissman. "Red-Letter Days." The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950. New York: H. Holt, 2002. 100. Print. ISBN: 0805070028

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Nicely done. Thank you! –  Shalom May 2 '13 at 10:20
    
Very common in Israel at the catering halls (in Israel the party in the hall tends to be called the Barmitzvah). Lacking an actual content (at least a wedding does have a chupah) there is a need to "call the guests to order" and have some sort of ceremony, normally with the barmitzvah boy giving a speech. It gives a chance to honour the relatives or commemorate those that have passed away. –  Epicentre May 2 '13 at 12:24
    
Interesting, thanks! (The one time I saw it was at a bat mitzvah in Canada.) –  Monica Cellio May 2 '13 at 13:19

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