What kinds of candles do you use on birthday cakes? There are the plain multi-colored ones, the candles that keep lighting themselves after they’ve been blown out (always a hoot) and the 3D number ones that you start buying when you’re over the whole “one for good luck” schtick.
And, of course, you always tell the little ones to close their eyes and make a wish when blowing out their birthday candles! There’s a simple story behind not only that, but why we stick the candles on the cake in the first place. The reason for getting wax all over a perfectly good cake should be a good one, after all.
The first semblance of celebrating a birthday was mentioned in the Bible, believe it or not, where there’s reference of celebrating the Pharaoh's “birthday” -- but it’s actually most likely his coronation date, or when the Egyptians believed he was “born” as a god. Actually celebrating normal human birthdays came a little later, when the Romans started partying.
While the Egyptians were crowning pharaohs, the Greeks were paying their respects. On altars presented for the goddess Artemis, who represented the moon and the hunt (her twin brother was Apollo, god of the sun, and her father was Zeus), the ancient Greeks would place round honey cakes meant to symbolize the moon. Candles were then placed in and around the cakes and burned -- the smoke was thought to float to the heavens with everyone's prayers.
Kind of like how worshipping Artemis promised a plentiful hunting season and prayers heard, blowing out birthday candles now represents a hope that whatever wish you make on the candles will come true.
This practice of putting candles on cakes eventually made its way to Germany, where the first recorded celebrations of birthdays manifested in Kinderfest in the 1700s, which was one big party for all the children growing older. Cakes would be baked, and, at first, a single candle would be placed in the center and lit to symbolize the light of life.
Eventually -- probably around the time Count Ludwig Von Zinzindorf celebrated his birthday with a giant party in 1746 -- they started putting enough candles on the cakes to represent someone’s age, with a few extra for good luck and a prosperous life ahead: “There was a Cake as large as any Oven could be found to bake it, and Holes made in the Cake according to the Years of the Person’s Age, every one having a Candle stuck into it, and one in the Middle,” the count said.
Birthdays are all about cake and wishes and candles are necessary -- simple as that.