These Historical Reasons Are Why We Blow Out Candles On Our Birthday

By Niharika Nayak

There are plenty of popular traditions that we follow around the world without questioning them. Blowing out candles on our birthday cake definitely has to be one of them. Although this event has been normalized so much so that everyone, whether they are three or fifty-three, blows out candles on their birthday, have you ever wondered why we do this? The way people celebrate their birthdays has varied across different times and cultures. The number of candles present on the cake represents the age of the people whose birthdays are being celebrated. We also know that we should blow out the candles to fulfill a wish at the end of the celebrations and right before we cut the cake. But there is a lot more culture and history attached to this practice. So let’s take a look at the origins of this tradition and some facts related to it:

The Origins Of The Tradition

The Origins Of The Tradition

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By the looks of it, putting candles on your birthday cakes is a popular tradition, and it has been around for a really long time. But have you ever wondered where this tradition actually started? It is hard to pinpoint who started it first, but the most popularly known tradition can be traced to the Ancient Greek civilization as they burned candles as a way of paying tribute to their gods and goddesses. For ancient Greeks, adding candles to their cake was a special way of paying tribute to the Goddess of the moon, Artemis. The cakes were baked in a round shape in order to symbolize the shape of the moon. Candles were supposed to represent moonlight getting reflected off the moon.

In Germany, people would place one large candle on the center of the cake to symbolize “the light of life.” Many people believed that the displaced smoke after they blew out their candles would take their prayers and wishes to the gods who lived in the open skies. Others believed that smoke would help them ward off evil spirits. Many people still add candles to their birthday cake for these superstitious reasons.

These days, people believe that the birthday girl or boy should make a silent wish before blowing their candles out. They must not reveal their wish to those around them, or the wish may not come true. If the candles are out in just one breath, then the person’s wish will come true, and they will have good luck for the rest of the year. Again, it’s based on superstitions, but works as a source of happiness for people celebrating their birthday.

In The Past, Sweet Cakes Were Only Baked For The Rich

In The Past, Sweet Cakes Were Only Baked For The Rich

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Birthday cakes were very commonly used in ancient Rome. However, they were not presented in the way that we know now. The practice of making a cake on someone’s birthday was non-existent at first. It was all about good meals instead. If you were a peasant or commoner, the best you could get was a flat and circular sponge cake devoid of any icing or decorations. It was only in the 15th century that German bakeries started producing single-layer cakes for their customers. Once the 17th century rolled in, the icing on multi-layer cakes became popular among society’s upper echelons. Only once the industrial revolution took place, the access to cakes spread to all types of social classes. By the mid-19th century, colorful and sweet cakes were found on everyone’s (who could afford it) tables.

Blowing Out Candles Was Initially Exclusive To Gods And Heroes

Blowing Out Candles Was Initially Exclusive To Gods And Heroes

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If you were a commoner (or even a wealthy person) in ancient Egypt, then we are sorry to say that you would not get a birthday cake or even a party for that matter! In ancient Egypt, parties were only exclusive to rich royals, and they did not use cake to celebrate. The custom of parties was then passed on to the Greeks, who then added cakes and candles to celebrate the birthday of their gods and goddesses. Soon, the tradition spread from celebrating gods and goddesses to celebrating Greek nobles, heroes, and aristocrats. Greek people, too, associated the burning of candles and fire with warding off any evil spirits that would haunt them. They believed that these evil spirits would visit them when they celebrated their birthdays. Hence, they would throw parties to entertain the spirits and make tonnes of noise to keep them away.

Germans Believed That Blowing Out Candles Would Keep Their Children Safe

Germans Believed That Blowing Out Candles Would Keep Their Children Safe

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It was only in the 18th century that European countries like Germany started believing in the custom of blowing out candles to celebrate their children’s birthdays. This became a widespread belief, and those celebrating would take their children to an auditorium-type space. The number of candles placed on the cake represented the age of the child. Initially, candles were placed in such a way that there would be one candle in the center, and the rest of them would be placed around the edge of the cake.

The Swiss Believed In Blowing Each Candle Out Individually

The Swiss Believed In Blowing Each Candle Out Individually

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For people from the Swiss community in the 1800s, each candle that they placed on their cake would represent one more year of their life. However, they also believed in not blowing out the candles one after the other. Nowadays, in most countries, people believe in blowing out their candles at the same time rather than one at a time. They also believe that they have to make their wish before they blow out their candles for the person’s wish to be granted.

Everyone believes in different reasons for celebrating. Since a candle is always symbolic of happiness, joy, and light it makes every event special. The cake-cutting ritual is now pretty mainstream and makes the day stand out. At the end of the day, it’s all about making someone feel special. Having said that, whether they used a cake, a party, or something else entirely is a different story. So what about you? Do you celebrate your birthday by blowing out your candles? What does blowing out your candles mean in your culture? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Niharika has a passion for all things art, music, and travel. During her spare time, she likes experimenting in the... more

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