The reason why you put candles on your birthday cake

It is an activity you have probably given little thought to over the years. As children you probably looked forward

It is an activity you have probably given little thought to over the years.

As children you probably looked forward to celebrating your birthday with an extra candle being added to the top for every year you matured, but as you get older you mightn’t feel so excited… And you might be worried about having the right amount of breath to blow those candles out.

Have you ever stopped to think about why we put candles on birthday cakes?

The custom dates back to ancient Greece, which in all honesty means it is older than you are now.

Back then, the Greeks would bake round honey cakes and top them with long, slender wax candles. The cakes were placed at the altar of Artemis’s temple – that’s the goddess of the moon.

What do those two things have in common? Well, if you’ve ever looked at a traditional cake you’d probably notice it was round in shape, and with a set of glowing candles on top you’d be hard-pressed to say it doesn’t resemble la luna.

The Greeks believed the smoke from the candles would carry their thoughts towards the gods. However, today we consider the lighting and blowing out of candles as a wish-making ritual.

The Germans has a different set of birthday celebration beliefs. Candles were placed on cakes, especially those of children, because of your susceptibility to evil spirits. The lighting of candles and gathering around the cake was a way of protecting you.  (Who’s to say those spirits weren’t just there for a good time and to indulge their sweet tooth?)

By the 1920s the tradition had taken on a more festive feel and American candle manufacturers took advantage of the opportunity by creating little boxes of candles in multicolours that you could buy just for those birthday celebrations.

As for the birthday song, well it got its start back in the late-1800s when a lady by the name of Mildred Hill composed a song called ‘Good Morning To All’. However, the details of how ‘good morning’ became ‘happy birthday’ are a little unclear.

You might think differently the next time you huddle around a birthday cake.

Do you still have candles on your cake? What was your last birthday wish?

  1. Jessie Whitehead  

    A great tradition if you enjoy some saliva with your cake!!

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