Why Do We Put Candles on a Birthday Cake?

Putting candles on birthday cakes is a tradition that has been around for a long time. But have you ever wondered how it all began?

Some believe that the tradition of birthday candles began in Ancient Greece, when people brought cakes decorated with lit candles to the temple of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Putting candles on a cake was a special way to pay tribute to the Greek moon goddess. The candles were lit to make them glow like the moon, a popular symbol associated with Artemis, while the round cakes symbolized the moon.

Others believe that the tradition of birthday candles started with the Germans. They celebrated with birthday candles during Kinderfest, a birthday celebration for children in the 1700s. Then, a single birthday candle was lit and placed on the cake to symbolize the “light of life.”

In 1799, Goethe referred to the practice of using very small candles equal to the child’s age to light a cake.

In ancient times people prayed over open fires because they believed that the smoke from the flames carried their prayers to the heavens. Today’s tradition of making wishes before blowing out birthday candles may have started with that belief.

Modern Rituals

Today in many cultures worldwide, people celebrate birthdays with a cake adorned with lit candles. Most use the candles to represent how old a person is turning. However, for older people often only a few candles are placed on the cake to represent the birthday, for example six candles for a 60th birthday.

Many people make a silent wish before they blow out the candles on their cake. It is believed that if you blow out all of your candles in one breath, your birthday wish will come true.

On the other hand, if it takes more than one breath to blow them out or if the person tells someone what the wish was, it will supposedly not come true.

In some cultures it is bad luck to blow out the candles before the evening meal is eaten up.

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