Happy birthday, Wonderopolis! There’s one brightly lit candle on our cake, and we can’t wait to blow it 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.