Happy birthday, Wonderopolis! There are FOUR brightly lit candles on our cake this year, and we can’t wait to blow them out. But before we do that, we were wondering… WHY do we do that?

As it turns out, putting candles on birthday cakes is a tradition that has been around for a long, long time. It can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks, who often burned candles as offerings to their many gods and goddesses.

For the Ancient Greeks, putting candles on a cake was a special way to pay tribute to the Greek moon goddess, Artemis. They baked round cakes to symbolize the moon. Candles were added to represent the reflected moonlight.

Candles on cakes became a popular tradition long ago in Germany, too. For religious reasons, Germans would place a large candle in the center of a cake to symbolize “the light of life.”

Some scholars believe that other meanings have also been attached to the use of candles on cakes. People may have believed that the smoke from the candles carried their wishes and prayers to gods who lived in the skies. Others probably believed the smoke helped to ward off evil spirits.

Today, we still put birthday candles on cakes. Many people still hold superstitious beliefs about them, too.

For example, many people believe that the birthday boy or girl (or website!) must make a silent wish before blowing out the candles. If all the candles are blown out in one breath, the wish will come true, and the person will have good luck throughout the year.

On the other hand, if it takes more than one breath to blow out all the candles or if the person tells someone what the wish was, it will supposedly not come true.

What do you think? Have you ever made a birthday wish? Did it come true?

If you have a trickster in the family, you may have been duped at one time or another by “trick” or “magic” candles. These candles automatically relight — as if by magic — after they’re blown out.

If you’ve never seen someone trying to blow out trick candles before, it can be quite entertaining to watch. So how do these candles magically relight themselves?

In truth, there’s no magic to it. It’s all science, of course!

When you blow out a “regular” candle, a burning ember usually remains on the end of the wick (the part you light). It’s that ember that causes the little ribbon of paraffin smoke you see.

The ember is hot enough to vaporize the paraffin (the “wax” on the wick), but it’s not hot enough to ignite the paraffin vapor back into a flame.

“Trick” or “magic” candles, however, have a special substance — usually magnesium — added to the wick. Magnesium burns quickly at a relatively low ignition temperature (as low as 800° F).

When you blow out a “trick” or “magic” candle, the ember that remains is hot enough to ignite the magnesium dust on the wick, which in turn gets hot enough to ignite the paraffin vapor back into a flame.

 

118 Join the Discussion

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  1. Happy Birthday Wonderopolis!

    Thank you for a great first year of Wonders and am looking forward to many more ahead.

    • We are too, eherreid! We can’t wait to share all the exciting things we’ve got planned! We’re so happy to know you’ll be along for the ride! :-)

    • Hi, Hannah! Thanks so much for letting us know what you WONDER about! Be sure to visit Wonderopolis every day this month…we think you might REALLY like one of our upcoming Wonders of the Day! :-)

    • That was so AWESOME, Mrs. Phillips’ Class! We were singing right along with you! Thank you so much for the awesome birthday wishes and for visiting Wonderopolis! We appreciate you! :-)

  2. Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday to yoooou! Happy Birthday, to you!!!

    We all enjoyed learning about “trick” candles!

    • We are so touched by the chorus of “Happy Birthday” songs our Wonder Friends have been singing to us in their comments today, Mrs. Russ’s Classroom! Thank you so much for helping make today so special! :-)

  3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY WONDEROPOLIS!!!! We are so glad you have stayed around for 1 year and we look forward to many more Wonder Years with you!!

    Today we shared some stories of birthdays we have been to (ours or our friends). We even have a student whose birthday is tomorrow! :) Everyone LOVED the trick candles they have seen and had funny stories to share.

    • Wow, Kerrick Elementary School! Thank you for the SUPER GREAT birthday wish! We are so proud of all of the learning that has happened this year in Wonderopolis, and have enjoyed meeting so many new Wonder Friends…like YOU! :-)

    • Thank you, Autumn! We are excited for the next 365 days…how about you? We have SO MANY new things to “WONDER” and learn about together! :-)

  4. Happy birthday, Wonderopolis! I hope you have more and more years in the website biz! Good luck! P.S. I thought we just put candles on the cake for the fun of it! :-)

  5. You’re welcome, Wonderopolis, and I have a wonder for you! What are the 5 smallest countries and the 5 biggest countries (When I mean size, I mean population, and square feet, it doesn’t matter which one you do)? You don’t have to, but I will be extremely happy if you just put it into consideration!

    • What a great idea for a Wonder, E.N! Thank you so much for taking the time to think about it and for letting us know what you WONDER about! :-)

  6. Wow! Happy birthday, Wonderopolis! Your website has taught me many things, and has given me something to do in my free time. Now, I shall sing thou a song. *Ahem* Haaapy Birthday to youuuu!! Happy biirthdaay tooo youuu!! HAPPY BIIIRTHDAAY WONDEROOPOLISS! I must say, I love youuuuuuuuu!!!! You’re welcome! Oh, and a Wonder I would like to learn about is Animation! Computer Animation! :-)

    • We LOVE that song, J.O.! Thank you for singing it to us! We love the idea of an computer animation Wonder, too…great job! :-)

  7. I am looking forward to the next 365 wonders too! I think we should wonder about the card game Magic the Gathering. I play it myself and think other people should learn about it too!

    • We think you will really enjoy some of the Wonders we’ve got coming up this month, Autumn! We can’t tell you what they are (that would spoil the surprise), but they are all AWESOME! Thanks for your great comment today! :-)

  8. I hope you have a good birthday and do a wonder on William Shakespeare and his stories. I am celebrating my birthday on December 15, so bye. P.S. who created Wonderopolis?

    • This is such a nice comment, Nick! Thank you so much for sharing it with us! We are sure we’ll have another great year! Do you know why? Because we have AWESOME Wonder Friends like you who visit Wonderopolis and tell us all the great things they are learning each day! :-)

    • Thank you so much, Elango! It really means a lot to us that so many of our Wonder Friends are wishing us a happy birthday today! :-)

  9. Happy Birthday Wonderopolis!! We liked learning about birthday candles. We are still wondering about a few things…
    First, do you know who invented candles and how long ago they were invented. Were they like the candles we use now?

    Second, do you know who the first people were to make cake? How did they make it? What ingredients did they use and how did they cook it?

    Thanks so much!
    Mrs. Johnson’s third grade

    • Those are GREAT questions, Mrs. Johnson’s third grade! We will be looking into those for some future Wonders of the Day! Thank you SO MUCH for leaving us a comment and for wishing us a happy birthday! We have had an AWESOME day! :-)

  10. Happy birthday to you
    You’re wonderful, too
    Your wonders are awesome
    and so are you, too!
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY WONDEROPOLIS!!!!!!!
    P.S. who invented origami???????????

    • We loved our birthday song, Cassie! It was very special to us! We also love the idea of an origami Wonder of the Day®! Thank you so much for suggesting it! :-)

  11. WONDEROPOLIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, OH AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOO!!!!!!!!!!!
    P.S. How does cancer happen? (just wondering because my dad died of pancreatic cancer) :(
    P.S.S. I THINK THE WONDER FOR TOMORROW IS ABOUT EITHER FOREST OR WILD FIRES.

    • We’re truly sorry to hear about your dad, Missy. WONDERing about cancer and where it comes from is something a lot of Wonder Friends think about. Thank you for the awesome birthday wishes and for suggesting a Wonder of the Day® about something so close to you and your family. You are an AWESOME Wonder Friend!

  12. Hi, Wonderopolis! King Leer has a nice question…who did invent Wonderopolis?
    Have an awesome b-day! I’d like to give you cake, but i can’t. Sorry. :( I’ll be sure to come tomorrow!!!! I LOVE WONDEROPOLIS’ WONDERS OF THE DAY!!!

    • There are LOTS of people who work here in Wonderopolis to create new, exciting Wonders each day! Wonderopolis wasn’t invented…it GREW! We planted a seed for learning, exploring, sharing and WONDERing and our AMAZING Wonder Friends (like you and your sister) helped it grow by visiting, encouraging others to visit, learning and commenting! It’s because of YOU GUYS that we’re 1 year old today…so THANK YOU! :-)

  13. Hi, Wonderopolis! I go on your website all the time, but I was wondering…who was the first person in space? Also, how could I forget the most important thing,

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY WONDEROPOLIS!!!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks for leaving us this comment today and letting us know you liked the video for our BIRTHDAY Wonder, Kelsey! You’ll have to check back to see if you were right about tomorrow’s Wonder…we think you are super smart for trying to use the clues to figure out what Wonder #367 might be! :-)

  14. Dear Wonderopolis,
    happy birthday
    happy birthday
    happy birthday
    happy birthday, wonderopolis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Thank you for the video, wonderopolis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We have really loved all the SUPER birthday wishes we’ve received today, Drew! Yours is awesome, too! Thank you! :-)

  15. Happy birthday Wonderopolis! I have a question…when did you start doing Wonderopolis?
    Thank you for the great Wonders!!

    • Well, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our two celebrating “MC” Wonder Friends! We hope today gets more and more WONDERful for you and all of your classmates (and your awesome teacher)! :-)

  16. Happy, Happy Birthday Wonderopolis! I have heard about trick candles before. My friend had them at her birthday party and it was SO funny to see her blow out the candles over and over again. I never knew that blowing out the candles on your cake was a tradition for the ancient Greeks! Are there any other people that have traditions for blowing out birthday candles? I will definitely try to nominate a wonder, have a great day!

    • Thank you for sharing the story about watching your friend try to blow our her trick birthday candles, Sara! We’re sure it was a funny thing to watch! There are probably many more birthday traditions celebrated by people all over the world. It will take a lot more WONDERing to find out all about them! :-)

  17. Happy Birthday Wonderopolis. I hope you stay for years and years to come. It’s a pleasure and an opportunity to read about your wonders. Thank you for your time and effort to create these wonders. By the way, cute video you posted! Keep on it!

    • What a super nice comment, Zaid! Thank you! We appreciate all the nice things you said about the Wonders. We’re so glad you visit Wonderopolis….you are a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  18. Happy birthday to you cho cho cho …
    Happy birthday to you …
    You are 1 year old this year…
    You are the best…
    Including my teacher…
    We see Wonderopolis every day at school, except on weekends. I love wonderopolis.

    • What a GREAT birthday song, Kelly! Thank you very much for sending it to us in your comment! We are really glad that you visit Wonderopolis every day! :-)

    • Why, thank you, Maria! We really appreciate you wishing us a happy birthday! We had a great first year and look forward to many more so we can meet awesome Wonder Friends like YOU! :-)

  19. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to wonderopolis, happy birthday to you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • WOW! Thanks so much for the awesome birthday song, Connor! We love that we are still getting birthday wishes from our Wonder Friends! We had the best birthday ever, and we are really looking forward to all the super cool things we’ve got planned for the coming year! Thanks for being part of Wonderopolis! :-)

    • You’re a GREAT Wonder Friend for singing us that awesome birthday song, Will! Thank you very much! We’re glad you visited this Wonder of the Day® today! :-)

  20. Happy birthday, Wonderopolis. I learned a lot about how the birthday candles started. It was very cool how it came from Greece.

    • Hi there, Will! Thanks for letting us know you learned something new and cool from exploring this Wonder! It makes us happy to hear that! :-)

  21. Happy birthday, Wonderopolis! I never learned so much about candles! I like Wonderopolis because I get to learn so much. Nice job, WONDEROPOLIS!

    • Thanks for the birthday wishes, Mahima! We really appreciate them! We think it’s GREAT that you learn so much when you visit Wonderopolis! We like learning something new every day, too! :-)

    • Thank you so much, KK! What a super nice thing to say! We will take a special birthday wish from a great Wonder Friend like you anytime! :-)

    • Thank you for the birthday wishes, Jourdan! We appreciate them very much! We think it’s AWESOME that you like exploring the past Wonders of the Day as well as the new ones! There are over 400 Wonders to explore, so we know you’ll have LOTS of fun learning new things! :-)

  22. Hey, I think this is really cool. I think it is so great, that I am using it for a school blogging assignment. I had no idea about any of this stuff like how Greeks used to do this. It is so fascinating.

    • We’re so happy that you are learning more about the history behind blowing out birthday candles, Paige! Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis today! :-)

  23. Thanks for telling me about this wonder wonderopolis I think your next wonder should be about do dogs understand you when you speak to them. I have a dog named Maddie my friend Maclin would like that wonder because he has a dog too!

    Best website in the world.

    (Anyone who agrees with me say I ) I I I I!

    • You are oh-so-welcome, Wonder Friend Brooke! We hope you have a very happy birthday on Saturday! :)

      We love your suggestion for another Wonder– thank you! We bet Maddie is one lucky dog to have a family like yours! Say hello to Maclin for us, too!

      “I”! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Brooke! We are always excited when we receive Wonder nominations from our awesome friends, like you! It takes some time (sometimes months) to go from nominated Wonder to completed Wonder of the Day®! We are so glad you shared your comment with us, Brooke! :)

    • Hey there, Ava! Thanks for sharing your comment- we’re glad you found this Wonder to be helpful! You can cite Wonderopolis by crediting the URL with MLA, APA or whatever style suits you! :)

    • Great reason, Demure! Thanks for sharing your reasons for celebrating and blowing out birthday candles! It’s fun to say hip hip hooray for a birthday! :)

  24. I think that it was very interesting because I never knew that the ancient Greeks started the whole thing by worshipping their gods. What interested me the most was when it told me that people thought the smoke would ward the evil gods or float their wishes and prayers up to the gods!

    • Thank you for sharing what you learned from this Wonder, Mary! We WONDER if you’ll be blowing out any candles soon! ;) :D

    • That’s a great question, McKinsie! We’re unsure of the exact number of different candles, but can think of several that serve different purposes. In addition to birthday candles and trick candles, there are scented candles for your home, really small candles called tea lights, candles used in churches and synagogues, and not that long ago, candles were used to light rooms. What other candles can you think of? What purposes do they serve? :)

  25. Happy birthday to you, (cha cha cha!)
    Happy birthday to you,(cha cha cha!
    Happy birthday Wonderopolis!!
    Happy birthday to you! (cha,cha,cha!)

    • Thank you SO much for singing the birthday song to us, RoseMary! We had an awesome birthday! We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend! :) :D

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do we blow out birthday candles?
  • How do trick candles work?
  • What are YOU wondering about?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

We hope today’s Wonder ignited some great WONDERing! Keep the flame of learning going by checking out the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • It’s been a year since our last birthday and a lot of WONDERing has happened! What have you done in the past year? Have you out-grown your clothes or shoes? What accomplishments have you made? Have you traveled to any new places or discovered any new hobbies? Have you met any new people? Think about what you’ve done in the past year and make a list of what you’ve enjoyed most. Share it with a family member or friend and ask what they’ve most enjoyed over the past year!
  • Know anyone with a birthday coming up? Ask them what year they were born in and learn about historical events that occurred that year on HistoryOrb.com. Find the year you were born on the list too. Were you surprised by any of the events listed for your birth year? Did anything occur on the date your were born?
  • What are YOU wondering about? That’s a question we ask often here in Wonderopolis. And guess what? That’s our birthday wish — we really want to know! As we start our fifth year, we need ideas from you. So whatever you’re wondering about, tell us. We can’t wait to hear from you! If you’ve ever heard the old saying, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question,” it’s completely true. Whatever you wonder about… the things you’re curious about… we want to know about them. So, please, make our birthday wish come true and help us celebrate by telling us what YOU wonder about. Just go to the Wonderopolis Nominate a Wonder of the Day form and tell us. You never know when your idea might be the next Wonder of the Day!And if you want to wish us a happy birthday, you can do that on Facebook or Twitter!

 

Still Wondering

Explore Illuminations’ Fire interactive activity to see the results of a fire if a forest is densely planted in a rectangular grid.

 

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