Candles stories: the birthday

Georges de La Tour  - Le nouveau né

Georges de La Tour - Le nouveau né

Flame is enthralling. It soothes us. While it increases one’s attentiveness, it makes duration perceptible. The instant expends itself: doesn’t it seem that the flame is lightning time? As far back as known, the flame was associated to life itself, celebrating anniversaries as well as many rituals. Most of the spiritual celebrations have called the quiet and dancing stillness of the flame for their ceremonies. Even beyond any kind of belief, lighting a candle remains solemn. Here is a little saga for the holidays, with various evocations associated to the candle. Today, the theme of the birthday.


Probably because both their cultures were refereeing to astrology, regarded as a true science, ancient China and Persia celebrated some special birthdays by lighting sacred flames, thousands of years before the Christian Era.

In ancient Greece, a honey cake ornamented with candles was dedicated to Artemis every month for her Birthday, as she was the Goddess of the moon and of the hunt.

In the western world, Catholicism banned this pagan ritual but for the nativity of the Christ, Mary and the Saints.

The celebration of the birthday was slowly reintroduced into the popular culture in 13th century Germany. But it was not until the Protestant tradition spread across Europe that the tradition of the birthday was restored. It is the development of the spirit of individualism that naturally legitimated the celebration of every birth. That only dates from the 18e century in France.

Today, lighting candles for a birthday, and often as many candles as years of age, has become a tradition shared throughout nearly all the cultures of our world. American actor and humorist Bob Hope once said that one becomes aware of getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.