Why do we have Birthday candles?

So, today is my birthday! Happy Birthday to me! I know my family and friends are so thankful for having me around for the past 38 years!

I found this picture the other day of me with my first birthday cake and it’s single candle.

This lead me to the question, why do even have birthday candles in cakes and I thought maybe you guys would be sitting on the edge of your seats to be a beholder of these interesting facts. If not there are some funny pics of me growing up with my various birthday cakes and a story that my sister still hates me for!

After a bit of research I learnt that nobody really knows why we have birthday candles but there are a few theories.

In ancient Greece tributes were paid to the Goddess Artemis on the 6th day of the Lunar month by baking bread cakes sweetened with honey and adorned with sticks of wax. The lit sticks were to represent the glow of the moon. This is the earliest record of candles on cakes, even if they weren’t used in the modern way we do today.

The Germans are responsible for a few anecdotes too. The Germans have an annual celebration beginning back in the 1500’s called kinderfest, where the life of children are celebrated. It is believed they had a single candle in a cake which represented the “light of life”.

In 1746 Count Ludwig Von Zinzindorf had a festival held to celebrate his birthday and a cake was made with a single candle in the middle and candles placed around the edge to represent the years since his birth.

there was a Cake as large as any Oven could be found to bake it, and Holes made in the Cake according to the Years of the Person’s Age, every one having a Candle stuck into it, and one in the Middle”

Andrew Frey

In 1801 it is said that when Johann Wolfgang Von Geothe was visiting Prince August of Saxe Gotha Attenburg he was presented with a cake covered in candles for his 52nd Birthday.

“when it was time for dessert, the prince's entire livery in full regalia entered, led by the majordomo. He carried a generous-size torte with colourful flaming candles - amounting to some fifty candles - that began to melt and threatened to burn down, instead of there being enough room for candles indicating upcoming years, as is the case with children's festivities of this kind”.

Another belief originating from Europe is that evil spirits visit you on the date of your birth and so friends and family visit keeping you jolly and making noise to ward off the spirits. The flames from the candles would also keep the spirits at bay. The candles were kept lit all day and not put out until after the evening meal.

Even to this day I still make a wish when I blow out my candles and always remind my children to do the same. Although I do think this tradition may dwindle post Covid.

It is believed that if you pray over a fire your prayers are carried to heaven in the smoke. This could be a variation on making a wish before blowing out your birthday candles.

It is also said that you must keep your wish to yourself or it will not come true.

What did you wish for?

So, there you have it a few possibilities on why we have candles on our birthday cakes.

I have to tell you about my Mum’s 50th Birthday cake. The whole family had taken her to Center Parcs as a surprise to celebrate her special birthday and one evening we had a lovely family dinner. My sister had made a lovely Chocolate Birthday cake. There wasn’t room for 50 candles on the cake but we put a fair few on there. My sister had made a beautiful diamante 50 out of paper – can you see where I’m going with this? To finish the display she added a fountain candle which in essence is a miniature indoor firework! I’m pretty sure you can guess what happened. We were in two separate lodges and we prepared the cake and lit the candles next door and walked over with it. By the time the cake got to mum the candles had melted onto the cake and the 50 decoration was in flames.

Only a mother could have accepted this cake as it was from a daughter that had made it with love! What made it worse was that I couldn't stop laughing and I know my sister got really upset with me, I just couldn’t stop. So here Nikki, after 10 years, I am making public apology for laughing at your pyrotechnic disaster. I am actually sitting her laughing whilst writing this! Sorry!!!

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