The Real Reason We Put Candles On Birthday Cakes Is Actually Pretty Cool

Nope, it's not to make your Instagram birthday photos look prettier. But that too, obvz.


Like evergreen trees at Christmas, chocolate eggs at Easter, and a pound coin under your pillow when your tooth falls out, the tradition of blowing out birthday candles is something that you’ve probably never thought to question.

The lights go off, everyone sings, you blow out the candles, done. But the history behind this oh-so familiar annual ritual is pretty interesting, and it might make you think the next time you’re making a birthday wish.


According to Neatorama, it was the Ancient Greeks who first placed lit candles on top of cakes, though it wasn’t with birthdays in mind. The Greeks believed that flames were a vessel to carry thoughts up to the gods, and so would light long slender candles and place them on honey cakes, leaving the cake on the alter of Artemis’s temple as a sacrificial offering.

By the 15th century, the Germans had twisted the tradition to make it part of their children’s birthday rituals, placing candles on cakes and gathering around the child to protect them and to help carry good wishes up to God.

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Once the tradition spread to the USA in the late 1800s, it was all systems go, with an American etiquette guide suggesting the use of “a birthday cake with as many tiny coloured candles set about its edge as the child is years old.”

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A few decades later, the manufacture of candles specifically for birthday cakes began, and the rest is history.

So there you have it. Next time you’re blowing out your birthday candles, spare a thought for the Ancient Greek gods, who no doubt feel a bit hard done by without all those tasty sacrificial offerings of cake.