MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Do We Blow Out Birthday Candles?

My birthday is coming, so I’m getting ready to blow out a lot of birthday candles on my funfetti cake. (Hey, I may be getting old but I’m still a kid at heart). But the question arises: why do we even put candles on a cake & blow them out to celebrate our birthday? I mean, celebrating the anniversary of someone’s entry into the world by enjoying delicious baked goods does seem like a pretty good idea, and our ancestors thought so, too, as birthday cakes have been around since ancient Roman times. But who was the first person to light a cake on fire? Well, there are a few theories.

Some believe the birthday candle tradition began in Ancient Greece, when people brought cakes adorned with lit candles to the temple of the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. The candles were lit to make them glow like the moon, which was a popular symbol associated with Artemis. Many ancient cultures also believed that smoke carried their prayers to the heavens. So, our modern tradition of making wishes before blowing out birthday candles likely began with that belief.

There are some, however, who believe that the tradition of blowing out birthday candles actually began in 18th century Germany, when Count Ludwig Von Zinzindorf celebrated his birthday in 1746 with an extravagant festival that included, of course, a cake with candles. A missive from that time documented that “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.” The Germans also celebrated with birthday candles during Kinderfest, a 1700s version of birthday parties for kids. But only a single candle was lit & placed on the cake to symbolize the “light of life”.

Wherever the tradition came from, I’ll definitely be celebrating it this weekend. So, wish me luck on another trip around the sun!

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at andy@wfre.com.

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