Blowing out candles on a birthday cake is a time-honored tradition that’s been occurring at birthday parties for centuries. Everyone sings “Happy Birthday,” and the birthday person blows out the candles to the applause and delight of guests who are simply eager for a piece of cake. The belief, according to some, was that extinguishing the candles would produce smoke that would carry your wishes up to the gods. And if you can blow out the candles in a single breath, your wishes were more likely to come true within the year.
My father, who fancies himself a wise Chinese sage these days, abhors the tradition and recently admitted that he’s despised it since I was a child, which is many years ago now. Blowing out candles, he says, sprays the cake with the celebrant’s germs and saliva. He thinks the practice is unhygienic and downright gross.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to identify a spate of illnesses directly traceable to birthday cake, my father does make a good point. Saliva transmits germs like those that cause the flu, herpes, mononucleosis and possibly, hepatitis. Think of the little kid with the runny nose who is coaxed to the table and then ordered to blow out the candles. Or the tiny tyke who can’t extinguish the candles in a single breath, so he blows each one repeatedly. Or the kid with the filthy hands who dips a finger into the frosting after he’s sprayed the cake with visible spittle.
Still want that piece of cake? Uh no, thanks.
My father wants to replace the tradition with a variation. He proposes that we place an ordinary candle beside the cake instead. The celebrant can still send his wishes to the gods, but without spraying his germs all over everyone’s dessert.
So there you go Dad. I’ve just spread one of your health mantras to the masses (yes, he has others, so stay tuned). Separate that cake from candle. And have a wonderful Father’s Day without any candles on the cake.