Is It Your Birthday? Here’s Why You’ve Been Blowing Candles All These Years!
Image Credit: Light up the candles, because it's your birthday.

It’s three minutes to midnight. While everyone at home seems to be in deep sleep (probably they are pretending), I know as the clock strikes 12 pm, all of them would come out of their rooms and surprise me. This year, when I was blowing off the candles and cutting the cake, it suddenly struck me, Why do we do this? I asked my mother but she didn’t know so I had to find out some way. 

My favourite cake has to be a chocolate cake, filled with nuts and some wafers on top of it. Now, while it seems quite normal to an Indian young adult like me to cut a cake on his//her birthday, this tradition is actually a gift of the Romans and Germans. Yes, you read that right. Legend has it that the first cakes were prepared by Romans, especially for weddings to be relished by the guests. These were flat and circular in shape, resembling the humble sponge cakes of today. 

The concept of cutting cakes beyond weddings was brought about, all thanks to the Germans. There were several German bakeries that started wiping up single-layered cakes for birthdays in the 15th century A.D. That’s when people started eating cakes as a customary practice on birthdays. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also followed suit with this tradition, wherein the cake symbolized the birthday of Greek Goddess of honour called Artemis. Here, the practice was limited to Greek gods and goddesses for the longest time and every sixth day of the month was celebrated as Artemis’ birthday but with time, it was extended to the nobility and aristocracy.

Blowing Candles, But For What? 

The significance of blowing candles is also quite varied. For instance, Greeks believe that it is meant to ward off the evil spirits as well as to reflect the glow of the moon. When the Germans started baking birthday cakes, the ritual trickled down from upper to middle-classes and to the Western European countries by the 19th century. It was then that novel forms of cakes with icing and decorations became available in the market. 

The Germans had a similar view of blowing candles, wherein the children’s birthdays featured special cakes and candles which were lit and blown away like bad omen. It is interesting to note that while one culture believes in protecting the birthday person from anything evil and bad, the other, say Swiss, look at adding an extra candle to wish an additional year of happiness, health and prosperity. It is also said that the practice of blowing candles can be traced back to Switzerland in 1881. 

Birthday Celebrations But No Cakes 

Though the custom of cutting a birthday cake has become widespread, from United States to several European and non-European countries, there are still some cultures which have preserved their age-old traditions which reflect their cultural beliefs. 

Take, for example, China where something called longevity noodles are a regular feature during birthdays. We are well-aware of the fact that noodles are staple to Chinese cuisine but these noodles are special. It is professed that the length of the noodles determine the life-span of the birthday person, which means longer the noodles you are eating on your birthday, the longer you’ll live. Or even Korea, where they do away with the cake custom, replacing it with their seaweed soup. 

The Mexicans seem to like it all messy and fun on birthdays with their La Mordida tradition. Once you blow out the candles, you are expected to cut the cake and take a bite. While you’re at it, make sure to scan your surroundings because any moment, someone might smudge your face with the cake and then you can have it as much as you want. Contrary to this, Russians go soft with their birthday customs where a pie is prepared for the birthday boy/girl with a sweet personalized messaged carved into the pie. 

Fascinating, right? Now, we understand your mind is still stuck on cakes so why don’t you bake one of these. 

1.  Apple Cake 

In for a fruity surprise? Try this quick and easy apple cake recipe, which fits well for birthdays and evening tea too. 

2.  Chocolate Marble Cake 

This is a sinful chocolate dessert that you definitely need to try. Layers of chocolate decadence wait for you to dive in. 

3.  Vanilla Cake 

With layers of vanilla slathered on the soft and moist bread, the colourful sprinklers on the icing add a vibrant hue to the pure white cake and a delicious crunch too.