What Is The History Of The Cake With Candles?

The tradition of putting candles on birthday cakes is a beloved ritual that many people around the world participate in. At its core, it is a fun way to celebrate someone’s special day, while also symbolizing wishes, light, and the passage of time. Though the specifics have evolved over the centuries, the overall meaning remains the same – honoring the birthday person with a cake decorated with flaming candles representing their life and hopes for the coming year.

Candles on cakes trace back thousands of years, with ancient roots and interesting myths around their meaning. Over time, the tradition spread and transformed, taking on new forms. While the details changed, the heart remained – celebrating life’s milestones with cake, candles, and togetherness.


The earliest known evidence of putting candles on birthday cakes comes from 18th century Germany. In 1746, Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf lit candles on a cake to celebrate his birthday, as documented in a German prayer book from the time [1]. However, some historians believe the tradition may be even older.

Ancient Greeks used round or moon-shaped cakes to honor the lunar goddess Artemis’s birthday by putting candles on them, suggesting candle-topped cakes could date back thousands of years [2]. Other accounts say ancient Egyptians placed candles representing the glow of moonlight on cakes for birthday celebrations.

While the exact origins are uncertain, evidence indicates people have been putting candles on cakes for birthdays and celebrations for centuries.


The symbolism of birthday candles is rooted in ancient beliefs and customs. Candles have long represented light in the darkness, and were thought to protect people from evil spirits. In early Greek culture, candles were placed on cakes to make them glow and honor Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Ancient Romans put candles on birthday cakes to represent the glow of life. In Medieval Germany, a large candle in the center of the cake symbolized the “light of life”.

Today, the candlelight represents the celebration of a milestone – marking the passage of time and another year of life. The glowing candles make wishes come true. Blowing out birthday candles is believed to carry the wish made to the gods who would ensure it comes true. The smoke from blown out candles also represented tempus fugit, the Latin phrase meaning “time flies”. Overall, the candles on a birthday cake represent joy, celebration and hopes for the coming year.

Source: https://www.candledelirium.com/blog/candles-brief-history-of-symbolism/


Candles have been made from a variety of materials throughout history. Originally, candles were made from tallow, which is rendered animal fat. Tallow candles burned poorly and gave off an unpleasant odor. Beeswax was introduced as a candle-making material around 3000 BC in Egypt. Beeswax candles burned brighter and cleaner than tallow candles. However, beeswax remained expensive and was mainly used in churches and by nobility.

candles were originally made from tallow before transitioning to cleaner burning wax materials like paraffin.

Modern candlemaking began in the mid-1800s with the discovery of paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum. Paraffin wax was an inexpensive alternative to expensive beeswax and foul-smelling tallow. Paraffin burns cleanly and allowed for mass production of candles. Today, most candles are made from paraffin wax, sometimes blended with beeswax or vegetable-based waxes like soy and palm. Synthetic waxes like gel wax are also used in some modern candlemaking.[1]

The evolution from foul-smelling animal tallow to clean-burning paraffin wax revolutionized candlemaking and made candles affordable, widely available items for everyday use.

[1] https://www.mycandlemaking.com/candle-making-materials-in-kolkata/


The design of birthday candles has evolved over the years. Initially, basic taper candles were placed on cakes. As candles became specifically made for birthdays, more ornate designs emerged. Candles were made in different shapes like numbers, flowers, or animals.

Modern birthday candle designs include numbers to represent the person’s age as well as fancier options like rainbow or sparkler candles. Some parties will have a large featured “number candle” showing the age with smaller individual candles for each year.The Cake-Filled History of the Birthday Candle Themed candles featuring popular characters or colors are also widely available today.

Lighting Methods

Before the invention of friction matches in the 19th century, lighting candles on birthday cakes presented a challenge. The earliest candles were made from wax derived from animals like bees and whales. To ignite these candles, people had to use existing flames from things like fireplaces, ovens, and oil lamps.

In Ancient Greece, celebrants lit birthday candles using the fire from the hearth. In Medieval Europe, servants used splints dipped in sulfur to individually light candles placed on cakes for royal birthdays. The splints acted as basic matches. However some splints were pretty short, so servants had to quickly light candles before the splint extinguished.

The first friction matches appeared in the early 1800s. These made lighting birthday candles much easier. With matches, people could independently light birthday candles instead of relying on existing flames. The popularity of birthday candles rose as matches became widely available by the late 19th century.

Making a Wish

The origins of making a wish before blowing out birthday candles can be traced back to ancient beliefs about candles representing glow and light. According to 1800flowers.com, some of the earliest references to making a wish and blowing out candles is found in ancient Greek celebrations where round cakes were baked with candles to represent the glow of the moon. The light of the candles was thought to hold magical properties, so people would make a wish before blowing out the candles.

This practice continued and started becoming popular during the Middle Ages in some European countries like Germany and England. It was thought that the smoke from the blown out candles carried one’s wishes and hopes up to the gods who would then grant them. So the custom of making silent wishes on the candles before blowing them out took hold as a superstition and spread as a popular birthday tradition.

Blowing Out

Blowing out birthday candles is one of the most iconic and beloved birthday traditions. There are various techniques and rituals around blowing out candles that have developed over time.

The traditional way of blowing out candles is to take a deep breath, make a wish, and blow out all the candles in one go. This symbolizes blowing away the previous year and making a wish for the new year ahead.1 Some believe that successfully blowing out all the candles in one breath means the wish will come true.2

In some cultures, the birthday person bites off or licks the cake from each candle before blowing it out. This represents consuming the sweetness and good luck of the previous year. Other traditions involve blowing out candles one by one, either from first to last or last to first.

No matter the specific technique, the blowing out of candles remains a special moment to reflect on wishes and dreams for the future while leaving behind the past year.

Candles Today

In modern times, candles on birthday cakes remain a beloved tradition around the world. While the origins and symbolism behind birthday candles are ancient, new variations and practices have emerged that reflect local cultures and customs.

In Western countries, the tradition of including one candle for each year of the birthday person’s life persists. Friends and family sing happy birthday as the celebrant makes a silent wish before blowing out the candles in one breath. If any candles remain lit, some believe those wishes won’t come true.

In some Asian countries like Korea, India and Malaysia, a long noodle instead of candles is placed on birthday cakes. Long noodles represent long life. The birthday person makes a wish and slurps up the noodle in one gulp.

Mexicans often adorn cakes with candy, fruits and nuts instead of candles. The customs include eating a piece of cake before breakfast on your birthday for good luck. In Ecuador, people place a small doll representing the birthday person on the cake.

While traditions vary, the celebratory spirit behind marking another year with cake and candles maintains worldwide. The ancient meaning of lighting flames to ward off evil spirits lives on through these joyful celebrations with loved ones.


In summary, the tradition of putting candles on birthday cakes has a long and storied history. It can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where round cakes adorned with lit candles were used in worship of Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Later, in 18th century Germany, the Kinderfest tradition emerged of celebrating children’s birthdays with a cake and candles. This custom represented light overcoming darkness and the passing of time. By the 1900s, the practice of placing candles on birthday cakes was widespread, though the number of candles often held special significance. Today, candles on birthday cakes are ubiquitous across cultures. Blowing them out and making a wish retains deep symbolic meaning, connecting us to childhood magic. Though the materials and designs have evolved, at its core, this cherished tradition still marks the passage of time, honors the birthday person, and creates a moment of shared festivity.

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