The birthday cake, resplendent with candles, is brought into a room with dimmed lights amidst friends and family singing Happy Birthday. The birthday child’s face lights up as the cake is placed on the table. With a momentary pause to close their eyes, a wish on their lips, and a deep breath, they blow out the candles on the cake.
Blowing out candles on a birthday cake is a tradition that has been around since time immemorial. While this began with a superstitious belief that the smoke from the candles would carry wishes to the gods, nowadays, we blow out the candles because it is a part of our birthday celebrations. It is entertaining, and we enjoy playing pranks on our friends who are celebrating their birthdays, with trick candles. However, even today, we believe that if a person blows out all the candles on the cake, and keeps their wishes a secret, then the birthday wish comes true.
Birthday traditions and legends
Despite being something that everyone seems to be familiar with, the connection between candles and birthdays is not something everyone is familiar with. The earliest stories of candles and cakes are linked to the ancient Greeks. Once a month, the Greeks would celebrate the birth of Artemis by making round cakes and lit candles would be placed on the cake. Artemis is the Goddess of the Moon. The round cakes represented the moon and the candles were to represent the reflected moonlight. It was believed that the smoke would carry wishes and prayers to the sky-dwelling gods.
Candles on cakes were a popular tradition long ago in Germany too. For religious reasons, Germans would place a large candle in the center of a cake to symbolize the light of life. The first documented case of candles being used on a birthday cake comes from Germany in 1746. A man by the name of Count Ludwig zon Zinzendorf threw a huge birthday party at his residence which had a large cake with candles stuck in it, and the number of candles was the same as his age.
From this incident in Germany, birthday cakes and candles spread throughout Europe, and by the 1850s, had found their way into America. The cake would be decorated with the number of candles equal to a child’s age, and while the guests sang hymns the child would blow the candles out, one by one. Nowadays, there is no birthday cake without a candle on it.
What does blowing out the candles symbolize?
Birthdays have been celebrated in different ways according to cultures and times. However, all of them have a similar format- placing one or several candles on a cake or a sweet snack and blowing it out. The number of candles on the cake represents the number of years lived by the person whose birthday it is. This person blows out the candle to fulfill a wish or to end the celebration.
When looking back at ancient times dating back to the Pagans, the ritual of burning candles can be associated with certain ancient rites in which fire was used to ward off evil spirits. It was believed that these evil spirits visited people during their birthdays and they had to be entertained with joy, and a lot of noise had to be made to protect the person from these spirits. Guests were expected to make a lot of noise and make it a joyous occasion. In the 18th century Germany, every time a child turned a year older, he or she was taken to an auditorium-like space so that adults could protect them from these evil spirits.
Is blowing out candles on birthday superstition?
Many superstitious beliefs are also associated with blowing out candles on a birthday. One of these is that the birthday boy or girl must make a silent wish before blowing out the candles. It is believed that this wish has to be silent or it wouldn’t come true. If all the candles were blown out in one breath, the wish would come true and the person would have good luck throughout the year. This could also date back to the superstition that the smoke from the candles would carry their wishes to the gods.
On the other hand, if it took more than one breath to blow out all the candles, or if the person told someone what the wish was, it would supposedly not come true. It is also believed that reusing birthday candles is bad luck.
How many candles go on a birthday cake?
The number of candles on the cake corresponds to the age of the person whose birthday it is. Candles that are to be put on a birthday cake vary according to the choice of the person getting the birthday cake or baking it. Candles may be arranged all over the cake or in different patterns, like one big candle being in the center and several smaller ones around it.
The most common type of birthday candle is short wax ones made of paraffin wax. These are safe to use on birthday cakes as even if they melt onto the icing they can be removed fairly quickly. These are generally 2.5 inches tall and have a small diameter. They come in various shades and have a white stripe on the side of the candle in a spiral design. These candles are quite popular because they are relatively inexpensive, widely available, and last long enough to light and sing Happy Birthday.
Over time, many different types of birthday candles have become available. There are candles shaped like numbers and other candles that mimic a sparkler. There are also trick candles that do not go out when blown upon and light back up. This makes for some fun and laughter as the birthday boy or girl has to try multiple times to blow out the candles.
The birthday cake itself may be made in the shape of the number representing the age of the person whose birthday it is. Cakes shaped like numbers can carry a single candle on top of the cake that can be blown out in keeping with tradition.
Alternative to blowing out birthday candles?
While it is tradition to blow out candles on the cake on a birthday, a 2017 study from the Journal of Food Research found that blowing out birthday candles on a cake increased the bacteria on the icing by 1400%. This is usually the bacteria that comes out of the mouth of the person blowing on the cake.
People may be grossed out by the fact that there are so many germs on the cake. With many diseases on the rise, this might not be the best idea. People are trying to prevent infection and being as careful as possible, and this is as good a time as any to seek out alternatives to blowing out birthday candles. Here are some innovative tricks to try out at the next party.
- Get a separate cake.Smaller kids usually tend to drool over the cakes and have a tendency to stick their fingers in them. Parents often give them a smash cake to do this. This could become the new norm for birthday cakes. A smash cake is usually a small round cake that resembles the main cake or cupcake that is covered in candles. This cake is placed in front of the birthday boy or girl and a separate big one is for the crowd. The big one does not have candles on it and involves no blowing. With the person celebrating their birthday having a cake of their own, they can blow all over there was, named was while everyone else digs into their slices.
- Paper plate.A method to make sure that the cake is not blown upon is the paper plate method. This is done by inverting a paper plate and carefully pushing through the number of candles required onto the paper plate. This ensures that the cake is blocked from the blowing process and also prevents the wax from the candles from dripping onto the icing. Although the candles dripping onto the icing may only remove a part of the icing, this is not to be lost out on.
- Wave Hands.Another method that has become very common nowadays Is the waving of hands. The birthday boy or girl waves their hand very close to the candles, thus blowing out the candles in the process. Although this could take a little getting used to, it is relatively safer than blowing out the candles from a hygiene perspective.
- A separate centerpiece other than the cake can be made with household items such as skewers and flowers. With a neat floral or decorative arrangement and a birthday candle in the middle of this arrangement, the birthday candle may be lit and blown out without any fear of spit or germs going on to the cake.
- Individual candles. Some people are also known to pick each candle off of the cake and blow each of t.
Blowing out birthday candles has mainstream tradition and is here to stay. The joy on a person’s face when their birthday cake comes out is always nice to witness. Order your favorite person’s next birthday cake from Cakebuzz. We understand individual needs and our birthday cakes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be elaborately decorated according to preference.