Thursday, January 18, 2007

Why do we put candles on birthday cakes?

Who's asking: Lilly Dean, Mechanicsville, VA

Lilly, 4, poses a question it had never even occurred to me to wonder about. Why do we set our birthday cakes on fire? What a very strange thing to do, when you think about it.

The origins of this custom go all the way back to ancient Greece, when worshipers at the temple of Artemis, the moon goddess, used to make offerings of cakes decorated with circles of candles; the ring of light represented the full moon. Hundreds of years later, Germans would put a single candle on a birthday cake, to represent the life spirit. Sometimes they would mark off the candles in segments, symbolizing the passage of the year. (Kathy and I had candles like this when we were little. They were marked off in years, and you were supposed to burn it down an inch once a year, on your birthday. Who knows what happened to those candles; they only went to 21, anyway, so they'd be long gone even if we'd kept up the tradition.)

Candles have always been part of religious rituals, and making a wish and blowing the candles out also has its roots in ancient pagan customs -- the idea is that the smoke carries your wish to heaven.

This morning's temperature of 0F was noticeably warmer than yesterday's -5F. You wouldn't think those five degrees would make much difference, but they do. Dizzy doesn't seem to mind it, as long as the sun is out.


Claire said...

I noticed the same thing about temperature this morning. I'm a little annoyed about the quick drop, though--last Friday I was wearing my light canvas jacket; Tuesday I was in the big puffy coat and long johns. It hardly seems fair. And I still haven't gotten a chance to wear the Yak Trax, because the snow on the ground hasn't yet solidified into ice. I saw a guy skiing to class the other day. It seems like a better idea every morning.

AnswerGirl said...

Maybe I should have gotten you snowshoes instead...

It's just started snowing here, and it's warmer (26F) than it's been all day. We're supposed to get 4-8 inches. Dizzy will be thrilled.