The Real Reason We Put Candles On A Birthday Cake

Just about everybody loves being presented with a birthday cake, and blowing out the candles before digging into the sweet treat is a tradition that carries on from childhood into adulthood. As for why we put candles on our cake and then insist on blowing them out while making a wish, well, there a numerous pieces of history that helped give birth to this tradition. 

This celebratory practice wasn't cooked up by the marketing execs at Betty Crocker or even the candle industry. The tradition of topping kids' birthday cakes with candles is only a few hundred years old and traces back to 18th century Germany, according to Food & Wine. Known as Kinderfest, candles were placed on a cake in celebration of a child's youth. They weren't blown out, though, and were instead left to burn down before the cake was eaten. Melted wax and frosting... yuck.

Historians believe that the ancient Greeks placed candles upon honey cakes to honor Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon, and the glow of the candles were representative of moonlight. It would be the ancient Romans who would first come up with the idea of celebrating a person's date of birth with a cake — sans candles, though. As for what ushered the birthday cake we know and love into the modern age, that's all a result of the Industrial Revolution making baked cakes a thing that could be enjoyed by all and not only the wealthy. Couple this with the numerous cultures around the world that believe smoke can bring prayers up to heaven, and it's easy to see why the masses blow out candles and make a birthday wish each year (via Curiosity).

Some psychologists even believe that we perceive our birthday cake to taste better after blowing out the candles. It's the ritualistic process of blowing out our birthday candles and putting our focus in the moment that is believed to trick our brains into thinking that piece of birthday cake tastes extra special (via Smithsonian). 

Now that you know how the tradition of putting candles on your birthday cake took shape, let's address the elephant in the room. It's kinda gross. A study conducted by the Canadian Center of Science and Education found that in some cases blowing out the candles on a birthday cake can increase the bacteria on the frosting by up to 1,400 percent. "Some people blow on the cake and they don't transfer any bacteria," study author and food researcher Paul Dawson told The Atlantic. "Whereas you have one or two people who really for whatever reason ... transfer a lot of bacteria."

Like the saying goes, you can't have your cake and eat it, too.