Birthday candles are candles which are used to decorate a cake at a birthday party. By tradition, the number of candles is usually linked with the age of the celebrant, and the guest of honor blows the candles out before the cake is served. In some cultures, people believe that if all of the candles can be blown out with one breath, the guest of honor will enjoy good fortune and happiness in the coming year. Others believe that if a silent wish is made before the candles are blown out and they can be extinguished all at once, that wish will come true in the following year.
There are a number of different styles for birthday candles. Basic birthday candles are very thin tapers about the height of a finger, designed so that many of them can be fitted onto the cake. Some pranksters like to use trick birthday candles, which look like ordinary candles until someone starts to blow them out and they start sparking and sputtering without becoming extinguished, or relight themselves after they have apparently gone out. Incidentally, trick candles can be extinguished by being removed from the cake and dunked in water.
For older individuals, crowding large numbers of candles onto a cake might be impractical, so candle manufacturers make birthday candles in the shape of numbers. People can buy single digits to mix and match to spell out a birthday, or double digit candles which may be especially fancy for major birthdays like 60. Other people eschew the traditional birthday candle altogether, using cartoon character candles, candles in the shapes of flowers, and other decorative candles for a birthday cake.
Typically, a birthday cake is ceremonially presented with the candles lit. The candles are often lit in the kitchen, allowing the cake to be paraded through the house until it reaches the guest of honor. Many cultures have simple songs which are sung during the parading of the cake, and children often learn the tunes at a very young age so that people of all ages can chime in on the birthday song.
The origins of the tradition of placing candles on a birthday cake are a bit unclear. Birthday cakes themselves seem to date to the Middle Ages, when sweet treats were prepared for people in the upper classes on their birthdays. Candles have often been used in religious celebrations, and there may have originally been a religious component to using birthday candles on a cake.