Why do we use Candles on Birthday Cakes?

November 14, 2015

Artemis, the Ancient Greek Goddess of the Hunt, of Nature, the Moon, and Motherhood, was a powerful woman who, despite being a huntress, had a powerful connection to Earth’s creatures. She was the protector of all living beings who were incapable of protecting themselves. Her twin brother, Apollo, was the god of the Sun (along with Helios, a Titan).

Candle Moments Artemis Birthday Cake

To worship and honor Artemis, ancient Greek people would bring cakes adorned with candles to her temple. People believed that the smoke from the candles was the way for their prayers to be carried up to the moon for Artemis to hear. This may be one of the reasons why we “make-a-wish” on our birthday candles – with the hope that the smoke may carry our wishes to divine listening ears.

Another attribution of birthday candles comes from the tradition of Kinderfeest, a children’s birthday celebration beginning in the 1700s. Traditionally, during Kinderfeest, parents would put the number of candles in cake to indicate the child’s age during the celebration.

Also originating in Germany during the 1700s, there was a religious celebration where people would light candles, usually 12 candles to celebrate each passed month, and place it in the center of the cake. The idea was the candle represented the “light of life,” and the celebration was to mark the life that was lived.

Popular in Latin countries, the “Quincaenera,” or 15th birthday of a girl, was also originally a religious celebration held in church. The girl would light her candle, and in turn, light the candle of her parents, and her parents would light the candles of the grandparents, signifying how we bring new life from previous life, but all rise from the same light. It is popular today in the United States for “Sweet Sixteens” to use candles with each candle representing how one person’s light has shined upon the girl’s life.

Wherever the tradition arose from, the propensity of candle-lighting on birthday’s is a traditional necessity. We continue to make our wishes and be thankful for the year we were given, and the year ahead.




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