The Beautiful, Ancient Story Of How Birthday Candles Were Invented

Have you ever wondered how the elements of our beloved traditions came about? For instance, why do couples kiss under the mistletoe, why do we make New Year's resolutions, or why do we light candles on birthday cakes? As it turns out, many of these questions have peculiar answers.

The tradition of mistletoe goes back to the ancient Celts, who used it as an animal aphrodisiac. Over time, mistletoe's fabled powers grew to the point where it was placed over doorways to fend against evil spirits. However, mistletoe never shed its sexual connotation, and thus the tradition of kissing under it was born (via How Stuff Works).

New Year's resolutions, however, go back to the Romans. The month of January was named after the Roman god Janus. He had two faces; one looked into the future, while the other observed the past. In the month of January, the Romans offered sacrifices to the Janus and promised good behavior for the upcoming year. Thus, the decision to make a change for the better (via History).

However, the Ancient Greeks are credited for the addition of candles on birthday cakes, and the tradition has a beautiful meaning behind it.

Moonlight or candle light?

The Romans were the first to bake birthday cakes, and they weren't made for just anyone. These cakes, made of flour, nuts, yeast, and honey, were made only to celebrate the birthdays of famous male citizens. According to Food and Wine, women's birthdays weren't celebrated until the 12th century. However, while Romans were the first to bake cakes, Ancient Greeks were the first to adorn the cake with candles (via Mashed).

The Ancient Greeks saw the round cake as a symbol of the moon and put candles on cakes as gifts to their goddess Artemis, who ruled the moon. According to How Stuff Works, "Some historians think the candles were used simply to lend the cake a moon-like glow. Others think that when the candles were blown out, their smoke was supposed to carry the birthday man's or woman's wishes skyward to the goddess."

Whatever the case, you can now thank the Greeks next time your birthday wish comes true.