Why Do We Put Candles On Birthday Cakes?


Red velvet, Victoria Sponge, chocolate gateau – we’ve all got our favourite birthday cake! And, when the big day comes around, we all love blowing out the celebratory candles (and then blowing them out again after the first attempt fails…) But where did this beloved tradition come from? The answer may surprise you!

a woman laughing after she can't blow out her birthday cake candles

The modern birthday cake seems to have dated back to 16th Century Germany, when bakers expanded beyond weddings to cater for birthdays. The connection between birthdays and candles, however, can be traced back even further. And no, it wasn’t started by a pyromaniac caveman.

Experts believe that Ancient Greeks used to honour the birth of the goddess Artemis with candlelit cakes every month. Supposedly, the candles represented the moon’s glow, while the smoke carried their prayers up to the Gods. Maybe that’s why we make our silent wishes before blowing!

someone watching their birthday candles flicker

In fact, superstition has been linked to birthday candles throughout history. In the late 19th Century, some Swiss communities required each candle to be blown out individually, with every candle representing one year of life. We may still correlate candles and age, but cakes are just too tasty to waste time blowing them out one-by-one.

People also used to believe that birthday candles helped protect against evil spirits – spooky! In 18th Century Germany there was a celebration called Kinderfest, where the presence of adults supposedly protected children from evil entities. The children received their cake in the morning, and the candles would burn all day long, being replaced regularly by family members. The rule was no cake until after dinner – some things never change!

an elaborately-lit birthday cake

So, celebratory candles have grown from some pretty mystical and spooky origins – but nowadays candles just protect against that evil friend who tries to steal one of the decorations on-top! Anyway, all this talk of cake is making me hungry…

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